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How NBA Top Shot is Redefining Rookie Cards

-- Written by @STEVEYGIII, NBA Top Shot, NFL All Day, Candy MLB and UFC Strike collector--

In previous posts on the blog I drew a lot of similar parallels down the chronology of Top Shot against that of physical cards. One thing that holds true in both physical cards and digital moments is rookie cards are king. For physical cards, the tiers are a little easier to distinguish with the traditional Topps flagship and Bowman paper rookie cards being sort of the bottom tier of collectible, but will hold demand and value long term. From there you get to the Topps Chrome / Bowman Chrome and what I will call alt launches like Topps Museum or Tribute or whatever random $600 box they want to launch this month. Somewhere in between are cult products like Finest, but even within each tier we rise with the parallels and number cards to keep increasing the value as what collectors are really after. Especially if we talk basketball cards with Panini. Panini has Prizm and Mosaic as the standard offerings most people look to and the parallels within them. The rarer the parallel, the higher the value. Just keep this concept in mind as you read this post. Scarcity drives the highest value of rookie cards.

True physical cardboard has developed a pretty natural funnel, because as the mint counts reduce the value goes up, but they are still classified as true rookie cards. There is no difference in set really between a base Prizim rookie and an /25 parallel. It is a "base" Prizm card and derivative. Insert set rookie cards are worth much less than the true rookies (barring again the parallel factor). If we take this all into account - when we are collecting physical rookie cards, low mint parallels of true base set rookie cards are what we are after.

How Do We Define Rookie Cards Digitally?: What really inspired this post and hopefully discussion on the Twitter machine after you read it, is how do we look at rookies on Top Shot differently? Quick shoutout, if you're following and engaging with Badge County, they do an awesome job with rookies and Top Shot content in general. In reality, the true "rookie card" on Top Shot is the Top Shot Debut with the rookie mint badge in my opinion. Now all rookie mint badges also carry the rookie year badge, but not all rookie year badges carry the rookie mint badge. Not all Top Shot Debuts carry a rookie badge of any kind. Herein lies the rub, how do we value rookies on Top Shot with all the various badges and also the timeline when the product launched? How do we define what a digital rookie card is?

The fabled LeBron James Top Shot Debut carries only that badge. No rookie badges of any kind. Devin Booker has a Top Shot Debut with only that badge, but what we saw this past off season was the release of the Run it Back Origins rare set which now carries a rookie year badge many years after Booker's actual rookie year. The floor value price of both moments is literally within $1 despite the RiB Origins rare being roughly 25% of the supply of the S1 TSD common. To me this is part of the beauty of Top Shot. We can redefine what a "rookie card" is. Top Shot has an enormous amount of capability to go mint rookie year moments, even rookie premiere moments in future sets, whereas traditional cardboard you can not do that. People value the TSD, but they are also showing they value the rookie badge nearly as much, because of what the moment represents.

To me, the Top Shot Debut is similar to the 1st Bowman in traditional cards. It is a player's 1st Bowman Card when they are drafted and is released prior to their true traditional rookie cards in products like flagship Topps or a Bowman RC. The Top Shot Debut to me signals a players first moment on Top Shot (yes I know that is stating the obvious). The rookie badges to me are additional rookie collectibles, but not necessarily the true "rookie card" of a player. Some players like LeBron, Curry, Giannis, etc will never have a true rookie card on Top Shot, because of when the product started. The moments I really like (and have on my Watch List) are the Ja Morant and Zion Williamson rookie TSDs. These are the 2 best players with a truly defined rookie badge Top Shot debut with a low mint count all rolled into one moment. Zion is sub 1500 and Ja is sub 1000 mints at time of this writing. They are superstar player Top Shot Debuts, with the rookie year and rookie premiere badges. They also even have the parallel concept with the rare and legendary tiers that pump up with the lower mint counts.

Digital Options for everyone: Starting in Series 2, we saw the quad badge TSD rookies increase to /4000 mint counts, which I think is here to stay for the long haul. That is not to say that players like Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton or Lamelo Ball's quad badge TSD rookie moments are anything to forget or that they won't hold value long term, but rather that is where the mix comes in on the product.

Top Shot does not have to fit nice and neat into the traditional cardboard narrative and here is a great place they deviate. In my opinion the /4000 quad badge TSD is the closest thing we have to a true flagship rookie card on Top Shot. It is going to hold value long term and be desirable, because it is that players first NBA Top Shot moment. With all the true rookies from when Top Shot launched and forward, this helps clear the TSD vs retro rookie badge confusion. Personally, I love the quad badge TSD and these are the moments I love to collect. They are usually in an affordable price range, you get a share of a player and collect multiple if you want, similar to base rookie cards. You just know the upside is going to be capped against the more scarce rookies in the future. If you look at a player like Anthony Edwards, who arguably is one of the hottest players in the league right now and on Top Shot, he has a strong base TSD with a handful of rares that vary in price and a legendary rookie year moment that is ultra scarce and high value. He also has the misfit /40k common (which I hope we never see again), but has a nice variety of rookie collectibles of different plays, all from his rookie year. You can literally pick up 6 different Anthony Edwards rookies on Top Shot. Compare that to his physical card print runs in the hundreds of thousands and the scarcity of being an Anthony Edwards digital collector is a good feeling (yes I know we need new users).

S5 Changing the Game: Personally, one thing I love that Top Shot did in the 2023-2024 (S5) series, is the structured sets of rookies. We have the common Rookie Debut set, the rare Freshman Gems and the legendary Rookie Revelation set. It is very easily distinguishable as a collector to navigate rookies on Top Shot with this. We have the Top Shot debut being the first moment, the flagship Top Shot rookie collectible /4000, but have options for things considered true rookie digital collectibles without feeling like we are undermining the value of the flagship. Are all the rookies in this set going to hold value? Of course not, but is holding that whole Rookie Debut set something of value? Absolutely. Freshman Gems won the CnC Momie Award for Best Set of the First Half. There are some banger plays in there and you also great an incredibly clean looking, rare and scarce rookie moment. I think long term Freshman Gems are going to be sneaky good holds due to the low mint counts, rare tier and double rookie badges. This is the entry level "upgrade my rookie" moment purchase for fans of rookies and spec buyers of rookies that start to develop into stars.

THE Rookie Collectible: Rookie Revelations. Where do we even being with these moments. Whoever had the concept of putting the draft day footage into a moment has done one of the best things to ever be done to moments on Top Shot. That is genius and it really distinguishes the Rookie Revelation moments as THE moment to own of a rookie. I just can't express enough how much I think that plays in the digital collectible space getting an advantage over a physical card showing a guy holding a hat at best. Rookie Revelations show the true power of a digital collectible. This is an all encompassing digital experience of fandom. I love a nice PSA10 slab of a good rookie parallel, but mark my words, we're going to look back on Rookie Revelations one day as a set that change collectibles. This is the ultimate digital rookie card.

When we talk about the digital evolution of collectibles (I know more shameless plugs to our own blog), we talk about how collecting and how we collect is changing. The days of a singular rookie card and year that it is released is changing as well. Top Shot is redefining rookies and how we do them. Digital rookies are more scarce than physical rookies, that is a fact and not up for debate no matter what you want to say about active users (check Fast Break stats though). The experience of digital rookies is superior, that is an opinion, but an opinion I believe helps drive us to growth and long term collectability. Look at what Wembymania did this year for Top Shot. Sure we won't have a generational talent every year, but you absolutely will have guys like Chet every year who is holding his own, commanding value. Take a look back at growth of guys like Edwards, Cade, Haliburton, Maxey and Jalen Green. Their digital rookie footprint offers plenty of upside, the same way their physical rookies start to pop; there's just a lot less of them to be had in the long term. It's not hard to be bullish in bull runs, but you also don't want to be color blind if you're the guy holding the red flag. Let that marinate (maybe it will make sense). Oh and this whole blog is obviously not financial advice.

Until next time, watch more moments, tell more stories and we ride at dawn.

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