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Kobe Bryant (True) Rookie Cards

With the 13th overall pick of the 1st Round in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets selected Kobe Bean Bryant of Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania. Kobe Bryant has 16 true rookie cards, 17 if you count the Fleer European copy (see below), and he has 13 rookie parallel cards.

The Day of Universal Grieving

On January 26, 2020, the news of Kobe Bryant and 8 others on board a tragic helicopter accident shocked the world. The moment brought about instant disbelief, WHAT!? Followed by denial, OH NO! Which led to a flurry of how and why questions.

The sadness that swept the world is because of what Kobe accomplished on the court as he shined as an NBA All-Star between 1996 through the 2016 season, but more importantly what he stood for as a man and the type of husband/father he was off the court.

I was too young to remember but I understand now what people felt as they tell stories of the premature deaths of Pittsburgh Pirate, Roberto Clemente in 1972, and Yankee Catcher, Thurman Munson in 1979, as each passed away in terrible airplane accidents.

The 1990s were dominated by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Kobe came into the NBA straight out of high school in the 1996-97 season and made an immediate impact. One could see very early on the athleticism and future potential Kobe displayed.

His potential quickly developed into a Jordan-like dominance and presence. As Michael Jordan’s career was coming to a close the baton was clearly being passed to Kobe. He was ready and he did not disappoint.

Career Stats & Accomplishments

What followed is a statistically staggering 20-year career.

According to Kobe Bryant career stats are:

  • 18x All-Star
  • 4x All-Star MVP
  • 15x All-NBA
  • 5x NBA Champion
  • 2x NBA Finals MVP
  • 12x All-Defensive
  • 2x Scoring Champion
  • 1x MVP

Folks these numbers are a thing of legends! His career average came to 25 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. Currently, he ranks fourth All-Time in scoring.

Thank you, Kobe, for who you were, what you stood for and the legacy you left.

Kobe Bryant True Rookie Cards

1996 Bowman’s Best, #R23 (RC)

The inaugural year for Bowman’s Best was a complete success, with a short 125 card checklist and a great rookie class, it proved to be one of the premium products of the year and the cards were printed on quality card stock.

But the real awesomeness of this product lies in its parallels, there are two of them. Refractors 1:12 packs and the popular Atomic Refractors inserted 1:24 packs and are a hobby favorite among collectors today.

1996 Collector’s Choice, #267 (RC)

The budget-friendly Collector’s Choice seems to be a forgotten product. Made of thin paper stock it seemed to be a product designed for kids and oftentimes insert themes were kid-related.

Fantastic action photo and design on the card front. Great portrait poses on the card back really make this one memorable. There are no parallels to speak of in this product.

1996 E-X2000, #30 (RC)

This small 80 card set is large in design and eye-appeal! Friends they don’t make them like this anymore. Big, bold, colorful borders glisten in the light. Action photos can be seen on both sides of the card due to the thin plastic see-through membrane that features clouds in the center of the card.

This is my favorite true rookie card of Kobe Bryant. Stunning!

Due to all this awesomeness, only player bio and stats can be given on the card back, but I’m okay with it. One parallel to speak of, the ever-popular Credentials, randomly inserted and serial-numbered to /499.

1996 Finest, #74 (RC)

One of the most dynamic sets created by Topps because of its three-tier base set layout. Allow me to try and peel this onion. First, let me say, I am only looking at Series 1 (cards #1-146) breakdown because it’s the series with the true rookie cards in it.

Cards 1-100 are the Bronze theme, also known as “Common.” Cards 101-128 are known as the Silver theme or “Uncommon.” And cards 129-146 are the Gold theme, also known as “Rare.” Depending on the player, card fronts were branded with either the word Apprentices, Gladiators, Sterling, or Maestros.

Silvers and Golds can be considered short-prints by today’s standards because they were inserted at a rate of 1:4 and 1:24 packs, respectively. Here’s where it gets good. All three-tiers have refractor parallels to them. Bronze Refractors 1:12 packs, Silver Refractors 1:48, and Gold Refractors were inserted 1:288 packs.

1996 Flair Showcase Row 2, #31 (RC)

Another small set, Flair Showcase features 90 cards in three different tiers (or rows), (Row 2, Row 1 and Row 0) for a total of 270 cards. The Row 2’s are considered the base true rookie cards the other two rows can be considered parallels.

The card is assembled with sturdy card stock and the design has lots of eye appeal. Solid card design front and back make this one a must-have. One parallel in this one, Legacy Collection inserted 1:30 packs. They are stamped and serial-numbered to /150.

1996 Fleer, #203 (RC)

This 300 card set was split up into two series of 150 cards in each. If you want the rookie cards from this set you’ll want to focus on Series 2 packs because that’s the only way you’ll see rookies, Series 1 has no rookies in it.

Borderless, full photography on thin paper stock allows for lots of damage to edges and corners so be sure to handle these with care.

There are no parallels for this set but Fleer did produce a European set this same year. In fact, they went international with this set but only the wrappers and boxes had any difference in language, the cards themselves were identical to the American version in every way.

However, Series 2 cards have different numbering. Kobe Bryant in the European set is card number 233.

1996 Hoops, #281 (RC)

Similar to the Fleer set Skybox released the popular Hoops brand. Great action photo but no borders on thin paper stock. The biggest difference in this one is the foil offered at the player’s name and the rookie emblem at the top right. The photo of Kobe on the back is epic. There are no parallels in this set either.

1996 Metal, #137 (RC)

The Metal brand premiered the previous season, it was a hit within the hobby and it didn’t fail to deliver with this set either. The overall theme of getting cards to look like metal had been attempted within insert sets but never been done with a complete base set, so the concept drew you in.

The result? As you can see a great-looking rookie card of our featured Hall of Famer.

Capturing Kobe Bryant on Draft Day, the silver foil background, and the Fresh Foundation theme really dress’ this card up for success. Check out the back! Even though it lacks player bio and stats I love it. There are no parallels for this card.

1996 Skybox Premium, #55 (RC)

Skybox offered collectors this premium product which took off in popularity due to its Autographics insert set.

The base set featured all the relevant rookie cards but for whatever reason, none of them indicates that. Nowhere does it show prospects, rookie, apprentice, etc. I guess they assume that everyone will know who the rookies are.

You do get a nice two-tone canvas background and a great action photo of Kobe going in for a dunk. There is one parallel, Rubies were inserted 1 per box and basically feature red foil anywhere you see gold foil, they are not serial numbered.

1996 SP, #134 (RC)

This beautiful premium product released by Upper Deck is underrated in my opinion. Great portrait photography, big bold lettering and that handsome SP brand logo at the upper right-hand side make this design clean, elegant, and simple. There are no parallels to speak of in this one.

1996 Topps, #138 (RC)

Topps base brand didn’t disappoint here. Great classic design and although the front photo appears very dark there’s a lot of action going on here. The design of the card back is very well thought out and gives us everything we would expect of Topps.

In 1996, this would be considered the flagship rookie card of Kobe Bryant. One parallel to speak of, NBA at 50 is stamped on each card front and has a silverish front to them.

1996 Topps Chrome, #138 (RC)

This is the debut year for Topps Chrome and is by far the headliner set for the 1996-97 season. To this day these cards carry a premium due to their demand. It was a retail-only product and mimics the regular Topps set entirely.

The chromium technology makes the card stock much sturdier. One parallel does exist for this product, the extremely popular, Refractor was inserted 1:12 packs.

1996 UD3, #19 (RC)

There are only 60 cards to this set but Upper Decks UD3 takes the award for most creative! Hardwood Prospects, which is cards 1-20 in the set, has that wood look to its front and back.

The photo is encased in what appears to be a free-throw line and the paint which is just genius. A different photo was inserted on the back along with stats and commentary. Overall, a design for the ages.  There are no parallels in this set.

1996 Ultra, #52 (RC)

Borderless, full action photo printed on great card stock is what you get with the Ultra brand. The player and team names are combined in a highlighted swoosh. Card back gives two photos, player bio, and commentary.

These are known for chipping especially on the back of the card. Parallels include Gold Medallion which features gold foil where player and team names are and inserted 1:12 packs. Platinum Medallion is inserted 1:100 packs.

1996 Upper Deck, #58 (RC)

Great photography, card design, and card stock. Heck, even the shades add to this handsome card design. The back of the card is exceptional as well. A cool-looking portrait photo of Kobe settling into his new role as an NBA player. Full high school stats, player bio, great commentary too. A fantastic card with no parallels.

1996 Z-Force, #142 (RC)

A “Z Force” is a physics term and basically means an axial force. In other words, the line about which a rotating body, such as the earth turns.

You can see the Z-Force power breaking through in the design of the card front with big bold font and the same rookie emblem that Skybox used in its Hoops product. There are no parallels in this product.

The 1996-97 NBA Rookie Class is perhaps one of the greatest draft classes of all-time. Be sure to also check out, Allen Iverson True Rookie Cards -or- Ray Allen True Rookie Cards.

Happy Collecting Collectors,

Learn. Collect. Enjoy.