The 1996-97 Topps Chrome Refractor
is the most valuable Bryant sportscard,
currently at $715 in PSA 9.
The 1996-97 Topps Chrome Refractor is the most valuable Bryant sportscard,currently at $715 in PSA 9.

Many NBA fans have already anointed Toronto Raptors star Vince Carter as the "next Michael Jordan." Carter put on a dazzling display at the Slam Dunk contest during All-Star weekend in February. He opened more eyes by scoring 51 points in his first nationally televised appearance later in the year. But before anybody calls Carter the next Jordan, they might want to check with the man himself.

"Vince doesn't play defense," Jordan told the Chicago Sun-Times in March. "Kobe can play both ends. Right now he's a better all-around player. And he's only 21? The kid hasn't even touched on his greatness." Kobe is, of course, Los Angeles Lakers All-Star Kobe Bryant. While it's doubtful anyone will ever eclipse Jordan's accomplishments, Bryant may be the closest thing to the next Jordan.

Bryant has been popular with collectors since he entered the league almost four years ago. Bryant's 1996-97 Finest Refractor rookie books for $750 in Gem Mint 10 in the May issue of the Sportscard Market Report. His 1996-97 Flair Showcase Legacy rookie is listed at $600 in the same condition. Other Bryant rookies are around the $100 level, but they won't be for long if Bryant continues to escalate his game as he has this season.

While Bryant has not yet clinched Hall of Fame status, his autograph prices are already there. A signed Bryant basketball is valued at $175, according to the April Sportscard Market Report (SMR), the same price as basketballs signed by Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, $25 more than a ball signed by one of Bryant's bosses - Jerry West. Not bad for a player who would otherwise be getting ready for the NBA had he gone on to play in college.

Sure, Carter can light up the scoreboard. And he is a nightly highlight show on sportscasts. But Bryant does those things, too. Throw in some tenacious defense, and it might not be long before Bryant is the most dominant player in the league. At 21, he has more years than most to work on it. Bryant went straight from high school to the NBA. SAT scores weren't a problem. Bryant had the grades and ability to attend any college he desired. But the chance to play in the NBA was too good for Bryant to pass up. Basketball is in his genes. His father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, was a veteran of eight NBA seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers and Houston Rockets.

Bryant was a four-year starter at Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania. He shattered the Southeastern Pennsylvania scoring record with 2,883 points. Along the way, he passed another pretty good high school player from the area, Wilt Chamberlain. Bryant was Mr. Everything for Lower Merion, garnering USA Today and Parade Magazine Player of the Year honors, among others.

Predicting how a 17-year-old will develop in the NBA isn't easy, but Lakers general manager Jerry West liked what he saw during pre-draft workouts. Although the Lakers weren't in position to select Bryant in the 1996 NBA draft, they were able to swing a trade. Los Angeles sent center Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Bryant, whom the Hornets had taken with the 13th pick.

West, well known as an astute talent evaluator, was right on the mark with the teen-ager. Bryant contributed as a rookie, scoring in double figures 25 times and averaging 7.6 points per game. He also showed off his athleticism by winning the Slam Dunk contest. Bryant made a big jump in his second season, becoming a key part of the Lakers as the team's sixth man. Bryant's scoring average more than doubled to 15.4 ppg. He also became a fan favorite, getting voted in as a starter for the All-Star Game.

At 19 years, 5 months, Bryant was the youngest All-Star in NBA history. The previous record was held by former Lakers star Magic Johnson, who was 20 years, 5 months. Bryant continued to progress in his third season. He was the only player on the team to start all 50 games and increased his scoring to 19.9 ppg. The Lakers thought enough of his progress to award him a six-year contract extension However, Bryant wasn't always meshing with his teammates. He was a regular on highlight reels and his scoring increased. But in the eyes of some teammates, he put himself before the team on occasion. He often tried to do too much on the court.

But an amazing transformation has occurred this season. Bryant has become a playmaker. He still will unleash a flashy move, but now he picks his spots.

"He doesn't take every situation as a personal challenge," Lakers forward Rick Fox told The New York Times earlier this season. "... No longer is he taking it to a level that at times became detrimental to the team. Flat-out, he's picking and choosing his opportunities a lot better and making us more dangerous."

Bryant has also made big strides on defense. It's the reason Jordan considers Bryant a better player than Carter at this stage. Already this season, Bryant has shut down stars like Ray Allen, Allen Iverson and Latrell Sprewell.

If the Lakers win the NBA title, as they are favored to do, it will mean more exposure for a player already among the league's most popular. But Bryant isn't resting on his laurels. After Jordan's praise about his defense, Bryant said one of his goals is to make the NBA All-Defensive team and eventually become Defensive Player of the Year.

"I'm very proud of it, I take pride in it," Bryant told the Los Angeles Daily News, regarding Jordan's comments about his defense. "It pushes me even more. It tells me that I'm improving. ... It's cool, I guess, to get recognition like that. It just shows that I'm heading toward the right direction."

More...

Vince Carter
Toronto's In-Vince-Able Carter Touted as Next Jordan, 3-20-00

Lakers

Watching the Lakers: Then & Now 3-31-00
Shaq Attack -- O'Neal Reaching for NBA Title and Respect, 2-24-00
George Mikan: Basketball's First Great Center, 1-15-00
'Chairman of the Boards Outlived by Immortal NBA Career, 10-13-99

Michael Jordan

Jordan Returns to Basketball...the Front Office, 1-21-00
Jordan Plotting Another Comeback? Is He Joking?, 11-30-99

Head to Head:
Kobe Bryant Rookies-- 1996-97
vs.
Vince Carter Rookies-- 1998-99
Card No.
Description
MT 9
Gem MT 10
Card No.
Description
MT 9
Gem MT 10
KEY:
= Tied sportscard values, or no equivalent
= Kobe Bryant's Values are higher -- head to head
= Vince Carter's Values are higher -- head to head
R23 Bowman's Best (R)
30
125
105 Bowman's Best (R)
20
60
R23Bowman's Best Refractor (R)
85
200
105 Bowman's Best Refractor (R)
60
135
R23 Bowman's Best Atomic (R)
275
550
105 Bowman's Best Atomic (R)
100
225
BP10 Bowman's Best Picks
20
70
N/A
BP10 Bowman's Best Picks Refractor
50
110
12 EX Century Dunk N' Go Nuts
18
45
BP10 Bowman's Best Picks
75
165
4 EX Century Generation E-X
12
50
30 E-X2000 (R)
70
375
89 EX Century (R)
25
110
30 E-X2000 Credentials (R)
175
475
89 EX Century Credentials (R) (89)
250
425
74 Finest (R)
50
170
230 Finest (R)
30
90
74 Finest Refractor (R)
275
725
230 Finest Non-Protected
35
100
N/A 230 Finest Refractor
100
245
N/A CC14 Finest Court Control
20
55
N/A CC14 Finest Court Control Refractor
65
150
N/A M1 Finest-Mystery Finest
30
65
N/A M1 Finest-Mystery Finest Refractor
55
110
N/A 25 Flair Showcase Row 3
20
100
31 Flair Showcase Row 2 (R)
20
100
25 Flair Showcase Row 2
25
110
31 Flair Showcase Row 1 (R)
25
110
25 Flair Showcase Row 1
30
120
31 Flair Showcase Legacy (R)
300
575
25 Flair Showcase Legacy
110
225
31 Flair Showcase Row 0 (R)
70
150
5 Flair Showcase Class of '98
35
75
203 Fleer
12
65
105 Fleer Brilliants (R)
30
110
13 Fleer Lucky 13
13
65
105 Fleer Brilliants Blue (R)
30
110
3 Fleer Rookie Sensations
30
80
105 Fleer Brilliants Gold (R)
275
425
N/A 105 Fleer Brilliants 24K Gold (R)
400
625
N/A 4 Fleer Brilliants Illuminators
15
45
281 Hoops
12
65
N/A
3 Hoops Grant's All-Rookies
50
155
N/A
3 Hoops Rookies
10
45
N/A
137 Metal
15
125
N/A
181 Metal-Precious Metal
60
140
134 Molten Metal (R)
30
100
5 Metal-Cyber Metal
10
45
34 Molten Metal Fusion (40)
225
450
3 Metal-Freshly Forged
12
50
34 Molten Metal Fusion-Titanium (250)
55
125
15 Metal-Metal Edge
12
50
55 Skybox Premium
13
85
234 Skybox Premium
40
250
55 Skybox Premium-Ruby
50
140
234 Skybox Premium-Star Ruby
375
725
3 Skybox Premium-New Edition
15
50
2 Skybox Premium Fresh Faces
10
40
R3 Skybox Premium Rookie Review
40
85
134 SP
40
180
95 SP Authentic
10
35
PC18 SP Holoviews
20
80
FC27 SP Authentic First Class
10
35
N/A 2K5 SP Authentic NBA 2K
18
50
N/A 215 SPX Finite (R) (2,500)
400
2300
N/A 215 SPX Finite Radiance (R) (1,500)
200
1200
N/A 215 SPX Finite Spectrum (R) (25)
600
2600
RS11 Stadium Club Rookie Showcase
15
50
N/A
R12 Stadium Club Rookies 1
10
60
N/A
Stadium Club Members Only
80
400
N/A
138 Topps (R)
12
75
5 Topps (R)
15
85
138 Topps-NBA 50th (R)
15
95
N/A
13 Topps Draft Redemption
25
80
N/A
YQ15 Topps Youth Quake
25
65
N/A
138 Topps Chrome (R)
250
1000
199 Topps Chrome
90
250
138 Topps Chrome Refractor (R)
715
2300
N/A
15 Topps Chrome Youthquake
80
300
N/A
19 UD3
15
75
118 UD Encore (R)
25
125
52 Ultra (R)
22
150
106 Ultra (R)
45
275
52 Ultra Gold (R)
75
225
106 Ultra Gold (R)
80
250
52 Ultra Platinum (R)
150
400
106 Ultra Platinum (R)
300
600
3 Ultra Fresh Faces
30
80
N/A
2 Ultra Rising Stars
25
65
N/A
58 Upper Deck (R)
15
85
316 Upper Deck (R)
35
300
142 Z-Force
12
70
316 Upper Deck Bronze
250
550
3 Z-Force Zebut
30
80
65 UD Ionix
25
150
22 SPX
14
70
120 Upper Deck Black Diamond
40
200
22 SPX Gold
18
75
75 Upper Deck Ovation
25
150
8 1997-98 E-X2001
10
50
N/A
8 1997 E-X2001-Credentials
450
700
N/A
*values as listed in Sportscard Market Report (SMR) - April 2000