All it took was a pandemic, some free time and extra cash in their pockets for sneakerheads’ shoe obsession to embrace the profitable trading card renaissance. The dueling niche hobbies, both of which possess performance and entertainment undertones, reached its nexus this past week when a one-of-a-kind pair of Kanye West Nike Air Yeezy shoes and extremely rare LeBron James rookie card set sales records on the private market.
The famous Sotheby’s Auction House announced that it brokered a private sale of West’s Yeezy 1 shoe prototypes for $1.8-million.
The polarizing hip-hop artist wore the sneakers during a 2008 Grammy’s performance. The previous record amount paid for a pair of shoes was $615,000 for Michael Jordan game-worn 1985 Nike Air Jordan 1s, which he laced up during a preseason game. West’s sold for nearly three times that amount.
PWCC Marketplace, a trading card industry leader, engineered a private $5.2-million sale of a 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite LeBron James Rookie Patch Autograph serial numbered to just 23 copies. Beckett Grading Services (BGS) graded the card a 9 out of 10 and the autograph a 10 out of 10. The seven-figure sale tops the previous record set back in February 2021 when a one-of-one Luka Doncic autographed rookie card sold privately for $4.6-million.
Why Did The Yeezy 1’s Fetch $1.8-Million?
Love him or not, Kanye West is an iconic pop culture figure with an estimated net worth of $1.8-billion. Rare, performance-worn collectibles affiliated with his unique brand will always collect premium prices.
The fact these kicks are also prototypes that pre-date the official drop of the Nike Air Yeezy I in 2009 make them even more valuable. Scarcity is king when it comes to collectibles, and you have a Grammy-worn, prototype pair of sneakers worn by a beloved hip-hop figure. Yeah, that’s one reason why they sold for $1.8-million.
In order to understand why sneakerheads hold rare sneakers in such high regard, like 2009 Nike Air Yeezy’s which sell for thousands of dollars on the secondary market, you need to understand collectors view them not only as shoes, but unique pieces of art. While these tangible goods made of rubber, leather and cloth may not be displayed in Louvre’s main foyer, their intrinsic beauty typically trumps financial. Then again, money talks, everybody has their price and, thus, $1.8-million gets ya a 1-of-1 pair of Yeezys.
What’s special about this particular sale is that a company, not an individual, purchased the shoes. The RARES App, a fractional investment platform focused on scarce sneakers, purchased the Yeezy 1 sample. Their intent, with the full backing of the SEC, is to offer tradeable shares of the shoes in the near future.
So, while $1.8-million may be a little steep for the common collector, RARES would allow investors to buy a slice of the Yeezy pie at a fraction of the cost. If the company finds another buyer willing to pay, say $5-million for the same pair of shoes, those investors would likely earn some gains on their capital.
Sneakers x Trading Cards, LeBron’s Most All-Time Expensive NBA Card
Despite the sports trading card market peeling off its February 2021 highs, the injection of new collectors — like sneakerheads — has kept the hobby humming.
StockX, which refers to itself as the first stock market for things, truly does have its virtual finger on the pulse of not only collectible shoe valuations, but also trading cards. Digital media outlet Footwearnews.com recently interviewed one of the company’s senior economists who echoed my thoughts on viewing the hobbies as both investments and works of art.
“Another similarity is the ability to share your collection with the world,” Jesse Einhorn told FN. “Instagram has made it possible to share your sneaker collection, share your favorite sneakers in the same way. The trading card collector can also show off their collection through social media.”
You think it’s a coincidence that basketball trading card company Panini started issuing “Sneaker Spotlight” sets in their high-end Noir product? The Zion Williamson pictured will sell for thousands of dollars on eBay as the new-age crossover collectibles continue to set new highs as auction.
LeBron’s $5.2m Rookie Card Value
The sale of LeBron’s 2003 Upper Deck Exquisite rookie card tied with a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card, graded PSA 9 out of 10, as the most expensive trading card ever sold. There are several reasons for the high card value and $5.2-million price tag:
- The LeBron vs. Jordan “best of all-time” debate. Regardless, James will go down as a generational talent with multiple NBA titles and several statistical records that trump Jordan’s.
- At the time, 2003-04, Upper Deck Exquisite was the most expensive pack of cards on the market at over $500 per pop. The company lost its NBA license following the 2008-09 season, but Exquisite’s quality, eye-appeal and scarcity made the product a must-have for high-end collectors.
- The RPA, or rookie patch auto, is often considered the “best” rookie version to have.
- The fact there are only 23 copies of this card screams scarcity when you consider how many of the remaining 22 are stashed away in a safety deposit box or vault.
- And not to wax poetic once more, but here is PWCC’s director of business development’s take on the expensive piece of cardboard:
“It really helps when sales like these happen,” Craig told ESPN. “It just instills confidence that there are really high-end buyers out there. And these cards are starting to get recognition as the pieces of fine art that they [are].”
Collectibles as Alternative Investments
Though the non-fungible token market has cooled, athletes like projected number one NFL draft pick Trevor Lawrence and actors like “The Wire’s” Isiah Whitlock Jr., famous for his portrayal of Clay Davis, are eager to cash in on what remains of NFT mania’s initial wave.
Lawrence partnered with Topps on a six-piece, $200 NFT collection. The trading card company, which lost its NFL license to Panini a few years ago, had to forgo any Clemson or Jacksonville branding in favor of a psychedelic, artsy ode to the top-rated quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Whitlock, best known for his well-enunciated delivery of the word shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit, placed his NFT up on the OpenSea auction block. Unlike other non-fungible tokens which are typically just an image or GIF, Whitlock’s NFT offers more bang for the buck. The winner will receive newly recorded MP3 audio of Whitlock, an original shooting script from “The Wire” signed by the actor and an exclusive “Shoot the Sheeeeeeeeeit!” virtual Zoom event for the winner and five of their friends.
Whether he knows it or not, Whitlock is ahead of the curve. Young collectors, and those who are more inclined to buy NFTs, covet unique experiences and events over things. So, while the MP3 and signed script are appreciated, the winner of that NFT auction is going to remember the exclusive Zoom meet-and-greet forever, while the MP3 gets buried in some digital folder and Episode 507 gathers dust on bookshelf.
Now imagine if RARE managed to flip their newly acquired Yeezy 1’s into an NFT that came with a private Kanye concert for the owner and 20 of their friends and family.
Welcome to the good life.