Upper Deck Basketball Cards

There are two reasons why Upper Deck cards are important to know about today. First, they revolutionized high quality cards in the sports card industry. Upper Deck has been truly influential on the development of modern cards. Secondly, the Upper Deck brand lives on as valuable. It is a generally good brand to have in the saturated market that Upper Deck operated under.

Upper Deck started off by producing baseball cards in 1989. The brand was immediately popular. It sold out its first release midway through its first year, and its second release was sold out during presale.

Licensing for the NHL, NBA, and NFL soon followed in 1990. Upper Deck took the hobby by storm by strongly rivaling Topps. Upper Deck was the first company to be licensed by all four leagues since 1980.

Upper Deck brought innovation to the hobby. Part of the reason for the quick sale of the second season was that Upper Deck offered autograph inserts. They followed this up with inserts of game used material (pieces of jerseys, nets, splinters of sticks). The company introduced high quality stock, excellent photography, and more dynamic designs.

A solid example is their NBA Exquisite Collection in 2003. The set included an autographed rookie card with a patch, a game worn jersey card, another autograph and patch card, and a parallel. The packs were sold for $500. This was unheard of for the time, but these ultra high end cards have sold well and are highly valued today.

The major sports leagues began to consolidate the card distributors in the 2000s. Upper Deck lost NFL, MLB, and NBA licenses. The company continued to produce many cards by simply omitting official trademarks.

Though it produces far fewer cards, mostly hockey through the acquired O-Pee-Chee Brand, Upper Deck has 250 employees and sells items such as game used helmets, balls, and jerseys with an autograph, or there are more creative displays. Upper Deck has found the occasional niche outside of the major leagues, including NCAA Football, NCAA Basketball, and Euro league Basketball.

For trading cards, Upper Deck has a strong legacy, and part of that legacy are their high end basketball sets. This article will take you through a few of them

1991-1992 Upper Deck

1992 was Upper Deck’s first release of basketball cards. The release featured a hologram on every card, an insert set, and Reggie Jackson autographs.

There were two series: a 400 card series, followed by a 100 card series.

Michael Jordan had a base card and an All Star card. The base was in the first series; the All Star card was in the second. Jordan was also featured on two hologram cards. One for winning the scoring title, and the other was for winning the MVP.

An interesting subset featured Jerry West which showed him on different cards throughout his career. Notable rookies include Larry Johnson, Dikembe Mutombo, and Steve Smith.

The 1992 Upper Deck set is not expensive today. A factory sealed box can be bought online for around $20.

Worth noting here is that there are two prototypes that predate this set which have Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

Upper Deck 1992-1993

The major reason for mentioning this set is that it has the most popular Shaquille O’Neal rookie card. Shaq came into the league gunning. He dominated the Rookie of the Year vote, and he was one of the few rookies ever to be named an All-Star. He averaged 23 points, 14 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game on 56.2% shooting. With its high gloss and dark edges, the card has condition issues. It sells for around $500 in Gem Mint condition.

The set was released in two series, but this time there were 310 cards in the first series and 200 in the second.

Upper Deck 1996-1997

The main draw behind this set is Kobe Bryant’s rookie. It is not expensive, and it can be bought for $30 in excellent grade.

Upper Deck 1997-1998

Tim Duncan is the major rookie card here. The set also contains great cards for Kevin Garnett, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Grant Hill, Shaq, Jason Kidd, and others. There were 360 cards in the set of standard sized that were separated by two series.

2003-2004 Upper Deck

LeBron James carries the set while accompanied by Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony. The James rookie card sells for a couple hundred in Gem Mint condition.

Upper Deck Exquisite Basketball

This brand is the most famous modern basketball brand. It was released for the price tag of $500 per box for the 2003-2004 season. It set the stage for Upper Deck to be a high market dealer for years to come. The set comes with on card autographs, low serial numbers, and patch inserts.

The Exquisite brand was the ultimate ultra premium brand as many collectors could not afford it. That was no concern because no player was numbered to more than 225. The top players were numbered to 99.

Chris Bosh, Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Russel Westbrook, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James all have their individual cards set with a jersey swatch and an on card autograph. These cards of top players are some of the most expensive cards in the hobby.

The Exquisite brand left its mark, and these cards remain influential on the basketball card market today.

2009-2010 Upper Deck

In the last year of Upper Deck basketball cards, the company was lucky enough to have James Harden and Steph Curry rookie cards on their set. It was a fine way to exit.


Upper Deck carries on today in areas outside of sports cards. They are renowned for their authenticated autographs business. Upper Deck has exclusive autograph contracts for players like LeBron James and legend Michael Jordan. The list goes on from Tiger Woods to Wayne Gretzky.

Upper Deck may have lost several licenses years ago, but they are involved in the hobby through their impact on card design and quality, fine modern sets, and autograph business which runs adjacent to sports cards.