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WNBA Cards Primer for New Collectors

scmavlscmavl Posts: 1,400 ✭✭✭
edited September 15, 2021 5:11AM in Trading Cards & Memorabilia Forum

I recently saw a user post a "Collecting Pokemon for Beginners" thread, and while I have no desire to collect them I still found it very interesting. Plus, learning new stuff is fun! As a 30+ year baseball card collector, I started collecting WNBA cards a little while back. It has proved to be a fun challenge, and I thought maybe a couple Forumites might be interested in dipping their toe into it. And if nothing else, maybe you just like learning about All Things Collecting.

THE CARDS: The WNBA's first season was in 1997, and that is when the first cards were produced. Pinnacle had the license to make them, and they went with the very weird strategy of packaging them in tin cans. Like tall soup cans that you actually need a can opener to get into. There are 17 different cans, as each one featured one of 16 players (two from each team), and one was just the WNBA logo. The cards are inside in either a 5 or 10 card cello pack that didn't really provide a ton of protection for them. So while they're not the easiest to find in high grade, the production run was huge so there are many out there. Single cans can still be purchased for $10-15 on ebay. And the neat thing is every card is actually a WNBA rookie card. Pinnacle went to normal packs in 1998, and then Fleer/Skybox purchased the license in 1999. The quality of the cards improved, and Fleer Ultra was the flagship that most people will look for in this era. You can still find packs/boxes from this era, but be prepared to pay $$$ for certain years (like '04), and the borderless Ultra cards are VERY tough in high grade. In 2005, production was taken over by Rittenhouse Archives, who normally made movie/sci-fi cards. This is my favorite era of WNBA cards. They tried a few different ways of selling the cards, beginning with standard packs, then moved to certain subsets in individually packaged/sealed packs, and finally just started selling them as sets from 2012-2018. The sets had very small runs, usually 400-500 per year. Panini took over WNBA cards in 2019, first releasing Donruss/Optic versions, and then expanded to Prizm in 2020.

THE PLAYERS: If you're like me, you've probably heard of a few legendary players like Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes. And if you watched the Olympics this year, names like Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, and Breanna Stewart might sound familiar. But other than that, WHO IS GOOD? Well, you’re in luck. Earlier this month, the WNBA released their Top 25 WNBA Players of All Time list. That makes it easy, huh? You can find the list here: https://www.wnba.com/news/wnba-continues-celebration-of-landmark-25th-season-names-greatest-players-in-league-history-the-w25/ It’s not without a bit of controversy, but it’s a good starting point. Of course, there are some hot new rookies whose cards are on fire, but approach those at your own risk.

WHAT SHOULD I COLLECT? Maybe you don’t want to take a deep dive into WNBA, but just have a few key cards of the top players. You’re in luck, because compared to some other sports they’re still fairly affordable. Not nearly as cheap as a year ago, mind you. Many of these cards are selling for 5-10x what they went for just 12 months ago. But if you just wanted to buy 3-5 cards, I’ll give my take on what the best rookie cards to pick up are. These are in the order of importance, in my opinion:

-2004 Ultra Diana Taurasi – She will likely win the fan GOAT Vote this year, and with good reason. She’s been with the same team since 2004, has three championships, an MVP, three Finals MVPs, five Olympic gold medals, and is the All-Time Scoring Leader by a wide margin. This card is highly condition sensitive, as the dark edges always seem to show white, especially on the corners. Only four PSA 10s exist. Expect to pay around $300 for a nice raw example, or over $1k for a PSA 8. There are Gold Medallion (#’d to 100) and Platinum Medallion (#’d to 25) versions that go for crazy money, even raw.
-2002 Ultra Sue Bird – While it’s card # 101 in the set, the 20 rookie cards in 2002 were all mail-in redemptions. Don’t be tricked into buying a pack/box hoping to score one. You’ll just end up with a long-expired, unredeemable piece of paper. This is another borderless card, but it has lighter colored edges so condition is a little less of an issue. They were mailed in stapled toploaders, so you can occasionally find really nice raw ones. It’s still hard to score a 10, but easier to get a 9. A decent raw example will set you back $200-300, or get a PSA 9 for $1500.
-2016 Rittenhouse Breanna Stewart – Now we get into the scarce cards. There were only 500 Rittenhouse sets produced in 2016, so just 500 rookie cards of the pretty much undisputed best player in the league exist. The good news is most are in pretty nice condition, as lots of these sets were purchased by collectors so they were kept in decent shape. Centering can be an issue on this card, but it’s on a nice, thick cardstock with a really swank matte photo. Expect to pay $1200-1500 for a raw one, or $2500+ for an unopened 2016 set. It’s hard to guesstimate on what graded ones would go for, as the only open auction on one this year was a PSA 9 that ended mid-afternoon on a Saturday and came in at $1427. I’d guess a better timed auction would see a 9 hit $2500.

HONORABLE MENTIONS - 2001 Ultra Tamika Catchings ($50 raw), 2011 Rittenhouse Maya Moore (#’d to 225, $1200 raw), 2008 Rittenhouse Candace Parker (#’d to 444, $350 raw), 1997 Pinnacle Lisa Leslie ($10 raw).
There are a few neat relic versions (both Bird & Taurasi have relic RCs), and lots of rookie autos, especially in the Rittenhouse years. These can often be had cheaper than the base RCs, weirdly enough. There are plenty of other cards that are just cool, like the 2007 card of a very pregnant Lisa Leslie, the 2010 Taurasi MVP card, or the 2014 dual auto of the Ogwumike sisters.
Some of the younger stars and up & comers are A’ja Wilson, Sabrina Ionescu, Arike Ogunbowale, & Michaela Onyunwere.

Hopefully this was helpful to a few of you. I’d love for some other knowledgeable folks to add to it and flesh it out a bit more. Some of you may not like the WNBA or women’s sports in general, but please keep that to yourself.

2.5 is pretty much my speed.

Comments

  • daltexdaltex Posts: 3,486 ✭✭✭✭✭

    So which sets are the best currently?

  • threeofsixthreeofsix Posts: 564 ✭✭✭✭

    @scmavl AWESOME post!!! (The shoe is on the other foot for me because I know nothing about the WNBA, but my daughter is crazy for it!!!!) so this is hugely helpful. I am sure that I will have some follow-up questions, but I wanted to thank you right out of the gate!!!

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.
    Live long, and prosper.
  • jay0791jay0791 Posts: 3,511 ✭✭✭✭
    edited September 14, 2021 4:40PM


    Beckett magazine has 2013 Rittenhouse Donne and Griner as in the top 10 valuable WNBA cards. You missed them.


    They are on the 25 list.

    I hear the Donne is $1000+ raw

    Collecting PSA... FB,BK,HK,and BB HOF RC sets
    1948-76 Topps FB Sets
    FB & BB HOF Player sets
    1948-1993 NY Yankee Team Sets
  • scmavlscmavl Posts: 1,400 ✭✭✭

    @daltex Currently, the only game out there is really Prizm. I’m not a huge fan of shiny cards, but I chalk that up to age. Lots of parallels and autos to chase.

    Thanks @threeofsix ! I appreciate you teaching me something, as I’ve often wondered what those terms (shadowless, unlimited) meant. Glad I could sort of return the favor! :)

    @jay0791 I did think of Delle Donne, but with her hardly playing at all in the past two years I kind of have her on the mental backburner. Griner was a borderline Top 25 pick for me, although she’s stepped up her game this year. Sylvia Fowles, Lauren Jackson, and Tina Charles all deserved mentions too, but I tried to keep my initial post fairly concise. The Delle Donne base RC is a great (and valuable) card though for sure. Very nice.
    (That Beckett list is ridiculous though, with TWO Jackie Stiles cards on it and no Maya Moore? )

    2.5 is pretty much my speed.
  • rtimmerrtimmer Posts: 1,347 ✭✭✭✭

    @scmavl said:

    WHAT SHOULD I COLLECT? Maybe you don’t want to take a deep dive into WNBA, but just have a few key cards of the top players. You’re in luck, because compared to some other sports they’re still fairly affordable. Not nearly as cheap as a year ago, mind you. Many of these cards are selling for 5-10x what they went for just 12 months ago. But if you just wanted to buy 3-5 cards, I’ll give my take on what the best rookie cards to pick up are. These are in the order of importance, in my opinion:

    -2004 Ultra Diana Taurasi – She will likely win the fan GOAT Vote this year, and with good reason. She’s been with the same team since 2004, has three championships, an MVP, three Finals MVPs, five Olympic gold medals, and is the All-Time Scoring Leader by a wide margin. This card is highly condition sensitive, as the dark edges always seem to show white, especially on the corners. Only four PSA 10s exist. Expect to pay around $300 for a nice raw example, or over $1k for a PSA 8. There are Gold Medallion (#’d to 100) and Platinum Medallion (#’d to 25) versions that go for crazy money, even raw.
    -**
    Hopefully this was helpful to a few of you. I’d love for some other knowledgeable folks to add to it and flesh it out a bit more. Some of you may not like the WNBA or women’s sports in general, but please keep that to yourself.

    Interesting post thanks for the help, I see you listed a 2004 Diana Taurasi card, any reason why you didn’t choose her 2003 Sports Illustrated card as her best rookie seeing how it’s a year earlier?

    Follow me at LinkedIn & Instagram: @ryanscard
    Join the Rookie stars on top PSA registry today:
    1980-1989 Cello Packs - Rookies
  • ringerringer Posts: 342 ✭✭✭

    Very interesting. The only womens hoops card i own are two SI Kids Paige Bueckers i picked up recently.

  • jay0791jay0791 Posts: 3,511 ✭✭✭✭

    Don't forget there are several woman who have made the HOF that predate the WNBA.
    IMHO I would stick to the cards on the PSA set registries

    Collecting PSA... FB,BK,HK,and BB HOF RC sets
    1948-76 Topps FB Sets
    FB & BB HOF Player sets
    1948-1993 NY Yankee Team Sets
  • scmavlscmavl Posts: 1,400 ✭✭✭

    @rtimmer The reason is the SI card is a college-era card and not a rookie card. And the SI issues, while occasionally (Mia Hamm, and currently Paige Bueckers as @ringer mentioned) being relevant, are usually just a placeholder for a real rookie card. It's like would you rather have an '85 Star or an '86 Fleer Jordan? The '04 Ultra is her flagship rookie card. Great question!

    @ringer I picked up a couple of those as well. Hard to find one that's well centered and doesn't have the printing defect on the lower left border.

    @jay0791 Very true. I think my oldest is a Pat Summitt & Lusia Harris RC from the '77-79 Sportscaster series. There is also Cheryl Miller, Carol Blazejowski, and many others that never got to play in the WNBA but have some type of card available.

    2.5 is pretty much my speed.
  • rtimmerrtimmer Posts: 1,347 ✭✭✭✭

    @scmavl said:
    @rtimmer The reason is the SI card is a college-era card and not a rookie card. And the SI issues, while occasionally (Mia Hamm, and currently Paige Bueckers as @ringer mentioned) being relevant, are usually just a placeholder for a real rookie card. It's like would you rather have an '85 Star or an '86 Fleer Jordan? The '04 Ultra is her flagship rookie card. Great question!

    .

    Gotcha thanks for the answer that made sense… until you got to the Star Jordan 😀yes I own a few 86 Fleer but would much rather have his Star cards even the 85’s. As iconic as the 86 Fleer is the pictures on both the 85 court kings and slam dunk are much better and feature Jordan 1’s and pics from his first dunk contest wearing that gold chain!


    Follow me at LinkedIn & Instagram: @ryanscard
    Join the Rookie stars on top PSA registry today:
    1980-1989 Cello Packs - Rookies
  • scmavlscmavl Posts: 1,400 ✭✭✭

    Ha! That's valid, @rtimmer :) I guess I should've picked a better example where the older card wasn't quite as cool. ;)

    2.5 is pretty much my speed.
  • scmavlscmavl Posts: 1,400 ✭✭✭

    It's been a year since I posted this, and the cards have continued to gain value. An '04 Taurasi RC in PSA 10 sold for $10k and some low #'d Prizm Sabrina Ionsecu autos have been hitting $5-8k. The WNBA Finals start on Sunday, and the Aces are playing so it should be good!

    2.5 is pretty much my speed.
  • Had this card for years and finally decided to have it graded. Very pleased with the results, so I thought I'd share.

    2004 Fleer Ultra Diana Taurasi SGC 9

  • frankhardyfrankhardy Posts: 8,046 ✭✭✭✭✭

    One name is all you need to know.... Caitlin Clark!

    Shane

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