In both cases, the cards were autographed, and the James card also came with, per the auction house, an “exceptional, tri-color James-worn jersey patch relic.”
Two other aspects of the 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite LeBron James Rookie Patch Autograph Parallel card also helped boost its price into the stratosphere: 1) It was one of only two such cards rated at a 9.5, meaning near-mint condition, and 2) it was just one of 23 ever produced, in a nod to James’s jersey number.
“There are only two of them, one of them is in private hands and the other was up for auction,” Ken Goldin, founder of Goldin Auctions, which handled the sale, told ESPN. “So this really was the single best LeBron card that somebody could have hoped to get. It was very active bidding, a lot of bidders, and we’re happy with the results.”
The purchaser of the James card was Leore Avidar, the CEO of Lob, a firm that says it aims to help other businesses “increase the connectivity between the offline and online worlds.” Avidar said (via the Action Network) his splashy acquisition was part of a plan to “bring something big to the collectibles and alternative asset business in the coming months.”
“If we were talking about a T206 [Honus] Wagner, or a 1952 [Mickey] Mantle, it probably wouldn’t be that much news,” Goldin said. “But when you’re talking about a card that was literally produced 17 years ago and is for a guy still playing in the NBA, it’s just shocking news to a lot of people. It’s really where my particular industry has been going for several years.”
Proclaimed “The Chosen One” on a Sports Illustrated cover when he was still in high school, James has fulfilled predictions of NBA greatness and, as Goldin noted, he is in the process of adding to his on-court legacy. In his second season with the Los Angeles Lakers, the 35-year-old forward is looking for the fourth championship of his 17-year career, as the NBA resumes its 2019-20 campaign in an Orlando-area “bubble” amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The league will finish its truncated regular season with eight games played by the 22 teams invited to the bubble, at which point James will almost certainly have locked up the first NBA assists title of his decorated career. He is averaging a career-high 10.6 assists per game, to go with 25.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and a 26.0 player efficiency rating.
Those numbers, plus the Lakers’ 49-14 record, good for second best in the NBA when the league went on hiatus in March, have James in contention for his fifth MVP award. Still, he said recently, he was in the bubble for “one goal and one goal only … to win a championship.”
It remains to be seen what happens at the end of this most unusual NBA season, but a memento of James’s first season in the league has already won a very expensive title.