Other | Jul 27, 2023

Top 10 Most Expensive Pieces of Sports Memorabilia

By Georgina

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Sport is a fun and exciting past time for most around the world, whether you're a player or a viewer, the joy it can bring is undeniable. But with each passing year the business aspect of sports grows larger and larger, and the money spent on sports memorabilia has been increasing alongside it.

The value of collectibles keeps rising and so does the variety of them, from clothes, cards, trophies, even to figurines. And the more iconic the player, the more expensive the item. Here we break down the top 10 most highly valued pieces of memorabilia ever sold.

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10. Luka Doncic Rookie Card - $4.6m (£3.29m) (€3.81m)

Sold on February 28, 2021, Luka Doncic’s Rookie Card set the record at the time for the most expensive basketball card ever sold at $4.6m. The Slovenian Dallas Mavericks megastar is regarded as one of the greatest European players of all time.

He became the first player in NBA history to score at least 225 points, 50 rebounds and 50 assists across 5 games. Hence why his one-of-one 2018-19 Panini National Treasures Luka Doncic Logoman RPA card was put up for private sale in 2021, at the height of his career, it was swept up for a hefty sum.

A year later in November 2022, the card was put up for public auction in the PWCC Marketplace November Premier Auction. The card sold for $3.12 with buyer’s premium, once again setting records. This time for the most ever paid for a basketball card at public auction.

9. James Naismith's 1891 Rules of Basketball - $4.34 Million (£2.75m) (€3.28m)

In 1891, James Naismith birthed the game of basketball to entertain the athletes at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, MA. Naismith’s students needed a sport to keep them active during the frigid New England winter months, but one that was not too aggressive, and which wouldn’t cause injuries affecting their upcoming season play.

The head of the school’s PE gave Naismith 2 weeks to create such a game, and that was that. Basketball was born into the world. But not without revising the rules to call foul on physical contact and ban running while holding the ball, after the first ever game broke out into a fight.

The original rules document was put up for auction at Sotheby’s, NY, by the Naismith International Basketball Foundation, to raise funds for the Naismith Charity. Instead of keeping it in their collection, the buyers, David, and Suzanne Booth, gifted the landmark document to the University of Kansas. David Booth, who was himself a KU graduate, chose to honor Naismith’s legacy of 40 years of coaching at Kansas University.

Because of the rarity and history of documents like these, Naismith’s rules made for a valuable and compelling investment opportunity. The $4.34m sale beat out the previous record holder for the piece of most expensive sports memorabilia: Mark McGwire, player for the St Louis Cardinals. The baseball that set his single season record for home runs was sold for $3m in 1999 and held that title for 11 years.

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8. Autographed LeBron James Rookie Card - $5.2m (£3.74m) (€4.3 m)

There are few, if any, NBA players as widely recognised and respected as Lebron James, and clearly the value of his name is felt off-pitch as well as on it. On April 27, 2021, the rookie card, complete with a perfect 10 graded signature, stole the crown from Luka Doncic for the most expensive basketball card ever sold. The 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection RPA (rookie patch autograph) parallel LeBron James card, numbered out of 23, was bought privately for $5.2m (€4.3 million and £3.7 million) on PWCC Marketplace.

Whilst this may have taken the title of most expensive basketball card, Jesse Craig, PWCC’s director of business development, speculates that "There are LeBron cards (still) out there, I would say, worth over $10 million,". The majority are likely unwilling to sell. As whilst there is monetary value to consider, owners of these cards have also grown sentimental attachments to them.

Craig elaborates however, “There are a select few that want to capitalize on the rise of the market, but it has to be kind of the perfect storm for someone to release a card of this magnitude.".

7. Babe Ruth 1928-30 jersey – $5.64m (£4.48m) (€5.02m)

A man known by many names: ‘The Sultan of Swat’; ‘The Behemoth of Bust’; ‘The Great Bambino’; and so on, Babe Ruth. Amongst major league baseball players, there is none as legendary as him. For nearly 40 years, the caliph of clout held the record for career home runs, almost single handedly launching the New York Yankees into a century of ruling the game.

Ruth’s jersey worn between 1928-1930 was listed for live-auction, amongst 400 other highly prized artifacts, by the Ruth family and Hunt Auctions in 2019. Held at “the house that Babe Ruth built” - the Yankee Stadium, the auction of Babe’s personal possessions garnered around $8.1m. $5.64m of that total was spent just on his iconic jersey.

This was not the only one of the Big Bams jerseys to fetch several million dollars at auction. The 1920 Yankees jersey, the earliest known jersey to be worn by the baseball icon, sold for $4.415m in 2012 (around $5.87m in today's currency). His rookie cards are also estimated to be worth up to $2.5 million.

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6. Muhammad Ali Boxing Belt - $6.18m (£5.14m) (€6.05m)

Whilst much highly priced sports memorabilia is attached to legendary stories and moments, there are few tied to such a monumental moment as Muhammad Ali’s knockout of George Foreman in the 1974 Heavyweight Championship. One of the greatest comebacks in history took place at the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ match, and the value of the Championship belt matches his legacy, at a mammoth $6.18m when sold in 2022.

After ‘The Greatest’ had his 1964 Heavyweight Champion title stripped for refusing to fight in the Vietnam war, he was banned for three whole years from boxing. His attempted return was tarnished by his first professional loss to Joe Frazier in 1971, and he badly needed a win. Though no one expected that win to be against George Foreman, 25 at the time compared to Ali’s 32 years, and a formidable force who had himself wiped out Frazier. Sports commentators even went so far as to claim Muhammad could only win if the race was fixed.

Desperate for a comeback, the boxing icon switched up his signature light footwork and adopted the “rope-a-dope” technique, allowing Foreman to gradually tire himself out before knocking him down with a one-two punch. With that, Ali claimed back the WBC belt, which years later, in 2022, was added to a collection of other impressive Muhammad Ali memorabilia owned by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Isray.

5. T-206 Honus Wagner Card - $7.25m (£5.98m) (€7.12m)

This Pittsburh Pirates shortstop was regarded as one of the best players of all time, playing 21 Major League seasons from 1897 to 1917. Referred to as the Mona Lisa of sports cards, the value of Honus Wagner’s memorabilia reflects the brilliance of his 21-year career as a hall-of-fame baseball star.

Whilst this T206 Honus Wagner baseball card is not the most expensive baseball card on this list, there are no cards quite so evasive and alluring to a collector as Wagner’s cards, with only about 60 in known existence. The condition hardly matters, even a torn half of a T206 was sold for nearly half a million dollars.

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4. Olympic Games Manifesto - $8.8m (£7.05m) (€7.98m)

At $8.8 million, the original Olympic Games Manifesto takes its place as the number one most expensive document in sports history. Whilst the Olympic games date back as far as Ancient Greece, they had somewhat fallen out of practice during that time. That is, until Pierre de Coubertin took his proposal of reviving them in the 19th century for international participation, to the French Athletics Association. He called for the rebirth of these ancient games as a way of celebrating global athletic ability and in 1896, the first modern Olympic Games were held in the country of their ancestral birth, Athens.

When De Coubertin died in 1937, his heart, full of passion for the games he brought back, was interred in a monument in Olympia. But the handwritten copy of his 1892 presentation survived long enough to make it to auction at Sotheby’s in 2019. The 14-page document was only predicted to sell for $1 million but after 12 minutes of tense bidding, sold for 8x that estimate.

3. Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" Argentina jersey -$9.28m (£7.35m) (€8.75m)

Another piece of memorabilia on this list, tied to one specific, ground-breaking moment, Diego Maradona’s jersey was donned by the Argentinian player when scoring his historic goal against England during the 1986 world cup.

Controversy surrounded the goal, as when Maradonna leapt to intercept a pass in the second half of the match and score the first goal, nearby players and cameras caught Diego’s fist punching the ball into the goal. The referees, however, did not, and they awarded the point to Argentina. “Probably one of the best pieces of fraud you will ever see” is how Terry Butcher, former captain of the England national team, referred to the contentious goal. Diego Maradona, however, swore that the divine had intervened, stating that the goal came “a little from the head of Maradona, and a little from the hand of God”.

Whether God truly intervened in that moment or not, Maradonna went on, four minutes later, to run the ball 60 yards in only 10 seconds, whilst swerving 4 opponents, feinting the goalie box and scoring yet another goal.

So, whilst the jersey likely would have been valuable regardless of the controversy, it doubtless helped boost the price.

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2. Michael Jordan 1998 NBA Finals jersey - $10.091m (£8.8m) (€10.097m)

With a career as famed and iconic as Michael Jordan’s, there is plenty of memorabilia out there for collectors to invest in. His shoes that were worn in the 1985 exhibition game when he smashed the backboard into pieces (valued at around $630,000), or his 1991 basketball card. But it is the Jordan jersey worn during the legendary “Last Dance” season for the Chicago Bulls that takes second place on this list.

This jersey was worn during the Game 1 loss to Utah Jazz, but 5 more games accompanied a famed Jordan shot over Bryon Russell in the last seconds of the game, Chicago once again took the championship for the sixth time in eight years. Before even the release of ESPN’s documentary series ‘The Last Dance’, the 1998 finals were the most viewed in NBA history.

At $10.091 million, Jordan’s record-breaking jersey stole the place of Diego Maradona for most expensive jersey ever sold and became one of the two pieces of sports memorabilia to sell for over $10 million.

1. Mickey Mantle 1952 Card - $12.6m (£10.75m) (€12.66m)

As one of the greatest players in the history of Major League Baseball, ‘The Commerce Comet’ takes the throne on this list at $12.66 million.

The mint condition 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card was sold by Heritage Auctions in August of 2022. Originally purchased in 19991 by Anthony Giordano, a New Jersey waste management businessman, for $50,000, its value rose more than 20x, surpassing the $7.25m value of the golden ticket T206 Honus Wagner Card.

Truck driver Ted Lodge inherited a home from his late father in 1986 and stumbled across a gold mine. Ted’s father was reportedly also a driver, one who drove Topp’s products in the 1950’s. After the distribution of the 1952 set was botched, a treasure trove of them sat in a basement box, untouched for more than 30 years.