PSA Set Registry
Collecting Rookie Cards of 'The Claw' Is Finally Catching On
By Kevin Glew
It took eight NBA seasons, two championship rings, two Finals MVP awards, three All-Star selections and signing with the big market Los Angeles Clippers to make it happen, but Kawhi Leonard is at long last attracting significant hobby interest.
But why has it taken him so long to generate a decent-sized collector following?
"It's the same thing that has affected Anthony Davis," explained John Bergeron, a modern PSA basketball card collector. "They have similar personalities. They just do their job and don't make a lot of noise. Kawhi has also played in very small markets."
Veteran PSA basketball card collector Miles Nault offers a similar assessment.
"I think with Kawhi it's because of his low-key player profile," said Nault. "He doesn't talk a lot, and he hasn't played with any glitzy franchises up to this point. The Spurs aren't showy. They just get the job done. I think that's the reason [behind his lack of notoriety] at this point. But his cards definitely ran hot during the playoffs. I saw a lot of his cards go for prices that I haven't seen before."
The dearth of Kawhi collectors can also be attributed, in part, to his subdued behavior on the court. The understated superstar, who signed a lucrative deal with the Clippers in July after leading the Raptors to their first NBA title, is all business on the floor and doesn't have a patented celebration after his baskets.
"He reminds me a lot of Tim Duncan," said Nault. "Tim Duncan didn't appear on many TV commercials or have a flamboyant personality, and that was the way he played on the court. He wasn't flashy, just very fundamentally sound, and I think Kawhi Leonard is the same way. Kawhi is just a solid all-around player."
But despite his low profile, most basketball pundits would rank Leonard as one of the best all-around players in the NBA.
Born in 1991, Leonard grew up in Moreno Valley, California, and excelled on the hardcourt first at Canyon Springs High School and then at Martin Luther King High School. In his senior season, he averaged 22.6 points per game and was honored with the California Mr. Basketball award.
His high school hoops heroics helped land him a scholarship to San Diego State University, where he was a standout for the Aztecs for two seasons. In his freshman campaign, he averaged 12.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, and he improved on those numbers as a sophomore, registering 15.7 points and 10.4 rebounds. That season, he also led the Aztecs to a conference tournament championship and to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament before they bowed out to the eventual champion UConn Huskies.
After his sophomore college campaign, Leonard entered the 2011 NBA Draft and was selected 15th overall by the Indiana Pacers but was traded to the Spurs on the same day. The NBA lockout would push his debut back until December 26, 2011, and he ended up averaging 7.9 points per game in his abbreviated rookie season and finishing fourth in the league's Rookie of the Year voting.
In his second pro season, he helped the Spurs to a finals berth against the Miami Heat. The Spurs lost the series in seven games, but Leonard was at his best, averaging 14.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
With the confidence he gained from that performance, he, along with Duncan and Tony Parker, led the Spurs to a 62-20 regular-season record in 2013-14 and he once again elevated his game in the playoffs. In a Finals rematch against the Heat, Leonard averaged 17.8 points per game to lead his club to the title. For his efforts, he received his first Finals MVP Award.
Over the next three seasons, he continued to improve offensively and defensively. Following the 2014-15 campaign, he was voted the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year. He captured that honor again the ensuing season when he was named an All-Star Game starter for the first time, an honor bestowed upon him again the following year.
Due to a quadriceps injury, he played just nine games in his last season with the Spurs in 2017-18. On July 18, 2018, he was shipped to the Toronto Raptors along with Danny Green in exchange for a package highlighted by DeMar DeRozan.
Employing a strategy that became known as "load management," the Raptors periodically rested Leonard during the 2018-19 regular season. The All-Star small forward ended up playing 60 games and setting career-highs in points (26.6) and rebounds (7.3) per game. But after leading the Raptors to a first-place finish in the Atlantic Division and a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference, he took his game to another level in the postseason, first guiding the Raptors to a convincing series win over the Orlando Magic and then sinking a game-winning, buzzer-beating shot in Game 7 of their second round series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
After two losses to open the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, Leonard seemed to will the Raptors to four straight wins and their first NBA Finals berth.
The Raptors were considered underdogs against the Golden State Warriors, but Leonard was again at the top of his game and the Raptors were victorious in six games. It was the franchise's first title and Leonard earned his second Finals MVP Award.
But despite doing everything they could to retain Leonard after the season, the free agent forward departed to sign a lucrative three-year deal with the Clippers to move closer to his California home. The Clippers also acquired Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Paul George on the same day.
So, with this resume, you can understand why Leonard's rookie cards have finally caught fire.
There are more than two dozen official Leonard rookie cards - not to mention countless parallels and inserts - in 2012 products. Here's a rundown of some notable non-autographed and autographed Kawhi rookies.
2012 Panini Prizm #209
His Panini Prizm rookie is his most coveted mainstream rookie. It showcases a photo of him dunking with the Spurs. This card has shot up in value dramatically in recent months.
"I did notice a rise in price [during the playoffs] for his Panini Prizm rookies, especially in high PSA grades," said Nault.
Nault says PSA GEM-MT 10s of this card could be purchased for around $60 at the beginning of the 2018-19 season. In July 2019, one of the 614 PSA 10s fetched $330 on eBay.
2012 Panini Elite #215 (#/599)
Serial numbered out of 599, this dark-bordered single offers an action image of Leonard in his black Spurs uniform. Its surface can be challenging to find without scratches.
Of the 16 evaluated by PSA, there have been 11 PSA 10s, one of which garnered $130 on eBay in June 2019.
2012 Innovation #113 (#/349)
This single offers an action shot of a young Leonard in his black Spurs uniform. Just 349 were produced and you have to watch out for scratches on its surface.
Only four have been submitted to PSA and they have all been deemed PSA MINT 9s.
2012 Panini Contenders Autograph #263
This sharp-looking card showcases a great action photo of Leonard with the Spurs. It's a popular card, but some collectors don't like its sticker autograph. It is also absent a serial number. There are 63 PSA 10s. One PSA 10 sold for $710 on eBay in June 2019.
2012 Panini Gold Standard Autograph #259
This attractive single showcases a photo of a young Leonard glancing to the side while in action. It features an on-card autograph with a long, rectangular jersey swatch above it. The only drawback is that it's not serial-numbered.
Of the nine submitted, there have been six PSA 10s. One PSA 10 sold for $355 on eBay in March 2019.
2012 Panini Immaculate Collection Patch Autograph #112 (#/99)
This high-end single pictures an intense Leonard clutching the ball and pondering his next move. It also offers a jersey swatch and an on-card autograph. It was actually produced in smaller numbers than his more widely trumpeted National Treasures rookie.
Six have been evaluated and there are three PSA 10s.
2012 Panini National Treasures Autograph Patch #114 (#/199)
This card presents a photo of a smiling Leonard in his black Spurs jersey and features an on-card autograph and jersey patch. One big difference from previous National Treasures releases is that 199 of these rookies were printed rather than 99.
"His National Treasures [card] definitely increased in value," said Nault.
Of the 15 evaluated, there have been four PSA 10s and one PSA 9.
• • •
Kawhi Leonard may be a humble and unassuming player, but as his National Treasures single proves, his rookie cards can be anything but. It may have taken almost a decade for the hobby to start noticing this reserved hoops athlete, but recent trend shows his cardboard future looks promising. Visit the PSA Set Registry to see a complete list of Kawhi's Rookie Set.
For more information on Kawhi Leonard's trading cards, please visit PSA CardFacts.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Please note the PSA Population Report statistics and Set Registry rankings quoted are as of August 2019.
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