12 Most Valuable 1996 Upper Deck Basketball Cards

Written By Ross Uitts

Last Updated: April 4, 2024
Most Valuable 1996 Upper Deck Basketball Cards


The 1996 Upper Deck basketball set needs no introduction.

With a fantastic design and cast of superstar rookie cards, hobbyists hold it in high regard.

Like the 1996 NBA Draft itself, the rookie class is incredible...

Kobe Bryant.

Allen Iverson.

Ray Allen.

Steve Nash.

Some of the best to ever play made their cardboard debut in this set.

Of all the great basketball sets of the 90s, this one ranks among the very best.

And in this guide, we look at the 12 most valuable.

Let's jump right in!

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Let's be clear: most of the cards from this set do not have any value these days.

Like the 1996 Fleer and Topps sets, large print runs saturated the market with these cards, driving down their values.

So, for the cards on this list to be worth much, they'll have to be graded by PSA to be in perfect, gem mint condition.

That means the card needs to be flawless.

Now that we got that out of the way, let's take a look at the list:

1996 Upper Deck #58 Kobe Bryant Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $275

Kobe Bryant's rookie year was, in a word, complicated.

Selected out of high school with the 13th pick of the 1996 NBA Draft, Bryant immediately ran afoul of then-Los Angeles Lakers head coach Del Harris.

From early on, Bryant believed he was an elite player who could break down any player, pro or otherwise, in a one-on-one matchup.

Harris felt the kid was full of himself and repeatedly told him to buy into the system and stop dribbling and shooting as much.

It was an uncomfortable situation from day one, and Bryant wondered if he'd made the right decision to come out.

"Man, if I knew this sh** was going to be like this, I would've gone to school," Bryant said later. "Because I felt like my coach, Dell Harris at that time, was trying to make sure he didn't show favoritism to the young kid, and as a result, he swung completely in the opposite direction and did things that weren't really fair."

Bryant played just 15.5 minutes per game for the 56-win Lakers, averaging 7.6 points (on 41.7% shooting, 37.5% from three), 1.9 rebounds, and 1.3 assists.

He played even fewer minutes in the playoffs (14.8 mpg) with an 8.2 ppg scoring average in nine postseason contests.

1996 Upper Deck #58 Kobe Bryant Rookie Card

1996 Upper Deck #16 Michael Jordan

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $125

The 1997 NBA Finals will forever be remembered for Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game.”

The 1996-97 NBA season will be remembered as the campaign in which Jordan and the Chicago Bulls made everyone else sick.

Jordan won his ninth scoring title in 96-97 (29.6 ppg) to vault the Bulls to the second-best record in NBA history (69-13).

If Chicago hadn’t rested many of its regulars over a 1-3 stretch to end the season, they’d easily have pulled off unprecedented back-to-back 70-win seasons.

MJ did it all for the Goliaths from Chitown.

He took home both All-NBA First Team honors and All-Defensive First Team honors for the eighth time.

Finishing runner-up to Utah’s Karl Malone in the NBA MVP race, Jordan one-upped his West Coast rival in the NBA Finals, dusting off the Jazz in a six-game showdown.

His Airness won his fifth Finals MVP, highlighted by the aforementioned “Flu Game”, a 38-point Game 5 stunner where Jordan battled a deathly illness to stave off the Jazz on the road, 90-88.

“Probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” Jordan said. “I almost played myself into passing out just to win a basketball game.”

1996 Upper Deck #16 Michael Jordan Basketball Card

1996 Upper Deck #91 Allen Iverson Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $100

It's fitting that one of the most controversial careers in NBA history began with one of the most controversial Rookie-of-the-Year campaigns we've ever seen.

Selected 1st overall out of Georgetown in the 1996 Draft, Allen Iverson was already the hottest topic in the league before playing a single game with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Traditionalists hated his shoot-first, shoot-always mentality and uncompromising personality.

Younger fans felt seen and represented by him.

Iverson was a lightning rod and a hot-take magnet.

He was also so damn good.

Iverson won ROTY with 44 of 115 first-place votes, outlasting Stephon Marbury and Vancouver's Shareef Abdul-Rahim despite Philadelphia's 22-60 record.

He finished sixth in the NBA in scoring (23.5 ppg), seventh in steals (2.1), and 11th in assists (7.5), a gaudy stat sheet punctuated by an NBA rookie record five consecutive games with 40 points or more.

Yet no matter what the 6-foot shooting guard accomplished, he took it on the chin.

Players, coaches, and fans roasted him at every opportunity, either because they didn't understand him or didn't want to.

"I didn't feel people should have come at me the way they did," Iverson said. "I would never criticize anyone in the NBA. I would never talk about anyone's game. I don't understand why they came at me like that."

1996 Upper Deck #91 Allen Iverson Basketball Card

1996 Upper Deck #165 Michael Jordan

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $100

The "Game In Pictures" subset that spans cards #165 - 179 in Series One packs is one of the best subsets I have ever seen.

Upper Deck's use of action shots on these cards is a masterstroke, capturing not just the player's physical prowess but also their character in real-time.

The John Starks card, with its 'Heart' theme, is a poignant reminder that victory is not always about talent, but about determination and the will to win.

Anfernee Hardaway's card highlighted the need to play with "Class" and bring dignity and respect to oneself and the other players on the court.

And Michael Jordan was the perfect figure to show "Excellence."

No one worked harder or was as dedicated to his craft as Michael Jordan, who put in tons of hours to hone his craft.

And it showed, too.

Countless individual accolades to go along with six NBA championship rings were the ultimate proof of his excellence.

Upper Deck hit a home run with this subset by putting these intangible aspects of the game front and center.

1996 Upper Deck #165 Michael Jordan Basketball Card

1996 Upper Deck #139 Chicago Bulls

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $75

The "Building A Winner" subset is another unique idea that Upper Deck came up with to highlight the top players on each team in the league.

The front of each card in the subset features three players and the year and method with which the team acquired them.

For example, the Chicago Bulls card states that the team landed Michael Jordan with the third pick of the 1984 NBA Draft and later acquired Scottie Pippen via a trade in 1987.

The reverse of the cards shows two more players, along with an excellent write-up on each team's plan and process for putting together a potential winning squad.

However, as great as these cards are, let's be honest: many of these teams were far from winners.

Sure, they tried.

But nobody stood a chance against this crew.

By the end of the 1996-97 season, the Bulls finished 69-13 and, if they hadn't rested guys, could have challenged their impeccable 72-10 finish from the year before.

As expected, they rolled through the Eastern Conference playoffs before dispatching the Utah Jazz in six games in the NBA Finals.

1996 Upper Deck #139 Chicago Bulls Basketball Card

1996 Upper Deck #148 Los Angeles Lakers

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $75

The five-member crew on the Los Angeles Lakers' "Building A Winner" card looks amazing.

Shaq was Shaq.

Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones were fantastic in the backcourt, forming one of the league's best point and shooting guard duos.

Cedric Ceballos had already made one All-Star Game as a member of the Lakers in 1994-95.

And Kobe was Kobe.

But Kobe was young.

At the time, he was an 18-year-old rookie and far from the "Black Mamba" with killer instincts who would dominate later in his career.

Still, this Lakers squad was ferocious enough to finish second in the Pacific Division at 56-26.

And they had a decent run in the playoffs, too.

The Portland Trail Blazers were no match for L.A.s quickness and strength, as the Lakers easily dropped them in four games.

However, they met an altogether different challenge in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Karl Malone, John Stockton and the rest of the Utah Jazz had waited long enough for championship glory, and the Lakers certainly weren't going to deny them.

Eventually, the Chicago Bulls would, but Utah had no trouble dealing with L.A. in five games before advancing.

1996 Upper Deck #148 Los Angeles Lakers Basketball Card

1996 Upper Deck #69 Ray Allen Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $70

For a generation of NBA fans and players, SLAM Magazine was everything.

In circulation since 1994, its influence was never greater than in the mid-1990s.

So when SLAM released its 1996 NBA Draft special, you best believe that the kids in the draft class were on the edge of their collective seats.

This included Ray Allen.

Drafted fifth by the Minnesota Timberwolves and subsequently traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for Stephon Marbury, the 21-year-old UConn product was immortalized as one of 11 players on the cover of SLAM's '96 Draft issue.

It was an honor, but it was also a kick in the gut.

Allen got the cover but was also named the player most likely to "fade into obscurity."

"All of a sudden you see this list and my shoulders drop, because it really bothered me," Allen said.

SLAM couldn't have had it more wrong.

Allen landed on the All-Rookie Second Team in 1996-97 with averages of 13.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 0.9 steals in 30.9 minutes per game.

He went on to become a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, a ten-time All-Star, and a two-time NBA champ and currently sits 23rd on the all-time games played list (1,300).

Obscurity never played so good.

1996 Upper Deck #69 Ray Allen Rookie Card

1996 Upper Deck #350 Allen Iverson

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $70

Since 1979, Dan Patrick has been one of the most recognizable names in sportscasting and radio.

And you may have seen him in movies, too.

But in the 1990s, he was most famous for his lead role on ESPN's "Sportscenter," where he would recap all the latest highlights with his colorful style.

If you were a sports fan, you knew Dan Patrick.

Capitalizing on Patrick's fame and marketability, they were brilliant to design an entire subset after him in their 1996 basketball release.

The "From Way Downtown" subset, named after one of his infamous catchphrases, includes fourteen cards of some of the biggest names in basketball.

On the reverse, Patrick gives his opinion and analysis on each player.

On Iverson's card, Patrick mentions that Iverson was the best college player he had ever seen, which is an enormous compliment.

He also highlights his determination and fearlessness.

While it's not a rookie ecard, considering his base card gets that distinction, it's still highly desirable as an alternative first-year card.

1996 Upper Deck #350 Allen Iverson Basketball Card

1996 Upper Deck #280 Steve Nash Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $50

There was no room for Steve Nash with the 1996-97 Phoenix Suns.

Selected 15th overall in the ‘96 Draft, the Santa Clara was shuffled down the depth chart behind three-time All-Star Kevin Johnson and the newly-acquired Sam Cassell.

After head coach Cotton Fitzsimmons was axed for Danny Ainge and Cassell was dumped to Dallas for former Rookie-of-the-Year Jason Kidd, there were even fewer minutes to go around.

Nash played just 10.5 minutes per game for the 40-win Suns.

Even in Ainge’s revamped small-ball system, the future Hall-of-Famer couldn’t buy crunch time minutes.

Instead, he made the most out of his garbage-time appearances, hitting at a 41.8% clip beyond the arc on 0.8 three-point attempts per game.

The 22-year-old South African averaged 3.3 points and 2.1 assists in 65 contests (two starts).

The raw numbers look unimpressive, yet Nash's per-36s of 11.2 points and 7.3 assists provided a fleeting glimpse at the player he could and would become.

1996 Upper Deck #280 Steve Nash Rookie Card

1996 Upper Deck #61 Shaquille O'Neal

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $60

All Los Angeles Lakers general manager Jerry West had to do was give it to Shaquille O’Neal straight, and he got his man.

"So when I was leaving Orlando, he brought me here and told me the truth,” O’Neal said. “I would have a young team and a guy named Kobe. That guy's going to be good, but in a couple of years, you're going to have championships.”

Before O’Neal made the jump from the Magic, the new-look Lakers were a playoff team with plenty of potential.

After Los Angeles secured the 24-year-old big man on a seven-year, $120 million pact, they were a dynasty in waiting.

First, they had to get O'Neal healthy and keep him there.

Shaq missed 30 games in 1996-97 to a sprained right MCL, marking his second consecutive year abbreviated by injury.

The good news came in the 51 games he did play.

Despite missing over 30% of the year, O'Neal was a top-ten MVP finisher and notched a Third-Team All-NBA nomination.

He averaged a 26.2/12.5 double-double in the regular season with 2.9 blocks and followed that with a 26.9/10.6 and 1.9 blocks per game in nine playoff contests.

Los Angeles wasn't ready to parlay Shaq's presence into trophies, but the celebrations weren't too far off.

1996 Upper Deck #61 Shaquille O'Neal Basketball Card

1996 Upper Deck #74 Stephon Marbury Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $30

The Stephon Marbury/Ray Allen draft-night swap divided everyone.

Some felt the Minnesota Timberwolves overpaid to grab Marbury, especially by tossing in a future first-round draft pick.

Others felt Allen was the safer move and that the Bucks had won out.

Everyone stood on one side of the fence or the other.

Everyone, that is, except for Stephon Marbury.

"I didn't care," Marbury said. "I was in the NBA. It didn't matter. I basically was talking about playing with Glenn Robinson and Vin Baker, and then I was talking about playing with Kevin Garnett. That's what happened."

The 19-year-old Georgia Tech point guard wasn't worried about anything much except balling out.

And that's just what he did in 1996-97.

After missing eight of the team's first nine games, Marbury locked in as the ideal complement to budding big man Kevin Garnett.

The Brooklyn native placed second in the league's Rookie-of-the-Year race, averaging 15.8 points, 7.8 assists, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.0 steals in 67 regular-season games.

Minnesota finished 40-42 to capture the first playoff berth of the team's eight-year history.

Marbury may have been unaffected, but he sure affected change up north.

1996 Upper Deck #74 Stephon Marbury Rookie Card

1996 Upper Deck #284 Jermaine O'Neal Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $25

Over 18 seasons in the NBA, Jermain O'Neal was a six-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA nominee, and the 2001-02 season's Most Improved Player.

At just 17 years old, O'Neal earned the distinction as one of the NBA's youngest players in history when the Portland Trail Blazers drafted him in the '96 Draft.

The big man was one of several promising young kids drafted right out of high school during that era.

But his career didn't take off immediately.

It was more like a crawl.

As I mentioned earlier, he was 2001's Most Improved Player.

In four seasons with Portland, O'Neal showed promise but never averaged more than 5 points and 4 rebounds per game.

However, the Indiana Pacers saw plenty of potential in the youngster, so much so that they were willing to trade All-Star Dale Davis for him and Joe Kleine.

And that's when his career took off.

In his first season, he played more than 30 minutes in 80 games, nearly averaging a double-double with 12.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.

Over the next seven years with the Pacers, O'Neal was an All-Star in six straight seasons.

From then on, his career would endure a slow decline.

He would play for five more teams before retiring after the 2013-14 season.

1996 Upper Deck #284 Jermain O'Neal Rookie Card

1996 Upper Deck Basketball Cards In Review

This set goes down in hobby history as one of the best of the 1990s.

With a rookie class that includes Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Steve Nash and several other superstars, how couldn't it?

And then there were Hall of Famers like Jordan, Shaq, and many more.

But in a set loaded with big-time rookies and Hall of Famers, I think the subsets are one of the most underappreciated features.

Upper Deck did a fantastic job of including multiple creative subsets.

Unopened Box of 1996 Upper Deck Basketball Cards

Other information about this set includes:

Checklist: 360 cards 

Distribution: Series One (#1 - 180); Series Two (#181 - 360)


  • Building A Winner (#136 - 164)
  • The Game In Pictures (#165 - 179)
  • Dateline NBA (#316 - 330)
  • Dan Patrick "From Way Downtown" (#331 - 359)

Insert Sets

  • Autographs
  • Dateline: NBA 5x7
  • Fastbreak Connections
  • Generation Excitement
  • Meet the Stars Instant Winner
  • Meet the Stars Trivia Challenge
  • Michael Jordan Greater Heights
  • Michael's Viewpoints
  • NBA Pick-Up Game Sweepstakes Stickers
  • Predictors
  • Predictors II
  • Rookie Exclusives
  • Rookie of the Year
  • Smoothe Grooves

The Kobe Bryant rookie will always carry this set.

But it has a stunning surrounding cast.

You simply can't go wrong with the 1996 Upper Deck basketball set.