There's a lot of talk about AI recently. You can keep your ChatGPTs and Midjourneys. We want to talk about Allen Iverson. After all, there's no way you'd get a more memorable answer from ChatGPT if you asked it about missing practice.
As far as we can tell, the most expensive Allen Iverson item ever publicly sold is a 2016-17 National Treasures Logoman, which sold for $79,200 at Goldin back in 2020 (we’re not counting a Triple Logoman that also featured Kobe Bryant and sold for $146,400 last year).
In a market that’s seen far less influential and - frankly - far worse players take to six-figure territory with relative regularity, that feels insane.
About a week from now, the photo-matched jersey Iverson wore as a rookie when he crossed up Michael Jordan will sell at Hunt Auctions (including matching shorts). The estimate? $25,000 - $50,000.
Pardon the drama: if it only sells for that much, this whole market is distorted beyond redemption.
Nothing about this category makes sense if that’s the ceiling for an item of that caliber and repute, especially while unspectacular jerseys from no particular, notable moment sell for that amount routinely.
The Crossover is quite possibly the single most famous and memorable dribble in NBA history. Do you know how many dribbles there have been in the history of the league?! Not even Basketball Reference tracks that one, but it’s probably damn near infinite. And this…this is very likely the most famous one, at least top 5.
Go ahead. Name a more iconic and memorable dribble. One that conjures a vivid picture in your head. Not a play that featured nice handles. One dribble.
Almost any basketball fan can replay the highlight in their head. Iverson, the precocious rookie, sizes up Michael Jordan - the alpha of all alphas - and goes to work. He hits him with what he termed “a little cross” to get him on skates, then just as Jordan’s feet settle, Iverson strikes with a lightning quick left-to-right crossover. The move provides him just enough space to fire off and convert a mid-range jumper before a rapidly recovering Jordan can alter the shot.
It makes it even better that the magnitude of the moment wasn’t lost on the crowd. As soon as Jordan switched to guard Iverson, the crowd rose to its feet in anticipation, working into a frenzy as their new hero got the better of the GOAT.
The jersey that lived through THAT moment is expected to sell for only $50,000 in THIS market.
Alright, I’ve worked myself up about a result that hasn’t even happened yet. Fortunately, bidding has already crossed $55k.
Seeing that estimate, though, evoked all sorts of realizations about the lagging collectors’ appetite for Allen Iverson and the lack of appreciation for what he meant to the league and especially to millennial kids in an NBA era that was overall….pretty meh.
On the court, Iverson was an 11 time All Star, a 4 time scoring champ, a league MVP, and of course, a Hall of Famer. He finished in the top 3 in the league in points-per-game eight times, and he’s eighth all-time in that metric. Production aside, he represented the arrival of hip hop culture in the modern NBA; he was the main inspiration for David Stern’s shift to a league-wide dress code. He was the epitome of cool in the moment, and in the early 2000s, his star was really only rivaled by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Fittingly, those two denied Iverson his best chance at an NBA title after he hauled an utterly inferior Sixers roster into the Finals. It was there that he famously stepped over Tyronn Lue, marking the second incredibly iconic and memorable moment of his prolific career.
Everyone knows The Crossover. Everyone knows The Stepover. How many players can say something similar? That two very specific movements of theirs could be replayed perfectly in fans’ heads over twenty years later? Very few.
Bleacher Report put together a ranking of the top 50 NBA plays of all-time. Bleacher Report is by no means an infallible source of subjective discourse, but still, Iverson accounted for four of the top 50 plays, with the Stepover checking in at 29 and the Crossover checking in at 25.
We noted 11 All Star selections. Iverson was voted a starter in 10 of them! There were a couple seasons in there when he was likely undeserving, but the player was so incredibly popular that fans willed him into the starting lineup anyways. He often rewarded them, winning the game’s MVP award twice.
Today, his signature sneakers still make up a huge portion of Reebok’s retro basketball business. The brand doesn’t embrace scarcity as a strategy, making the Question (and to a lesser extent the Answer) persistently available, so Iverson’s sneakers don’t generate the same hype as Jordans or Kobes, but they remain a big seller nonetheless. That persistent availability may damage Iverson's cross-category collecting appeal, if you believe the scarcity of Kobes contributes to the perception of the late star's collectibles as must-have items. Famously, AI remains seven years away from receiving a $32 million trust fund Reebok set aside for him when he signed a lifetime deal back in 2001.
While Iverson has some juice in collecting spheres, it pales in comparison to other players, deserving or not and contemporaries or not. Perhaps his most well-known and iconic rookie card, the Topps Chrome Refractor carries a PSA 10 population of just 36. That’s a little more than half of the 72 card population for the same card of Kobe Bryant. Kobe’s card most recently sold for $102,000. The peak price for Iverson’s card was $61,000 back in Spring 2021. The most recent sale was for $17,400. We’d be here all day if we rattled off key rookie cards in top condition that sell for more than $17k.
Look, AI doesn’t have Kobe’s starpower, longevity, or legacy. He certainly doesn’t have his rings. The wide disparity, though, does highlight the steep curve in value when you move from the top tier of icons into the next tier down. The That is not a linear and gentle progression. It should serve as a warning to collectors of active NBA players; Ja, Luka, Trae....they may seem to boast massive starpower and incredible prowess today, and that might mean very little 20 years down the road if they aren't the guy in their generation.
Still, it seems the market has lost sight of AI's top tier stardom of the late 1990s and early 2000s - when it did rival Kobe's - and in general, the Iverson market has yet to receive a major millennial tailwind from those that felt his supreme relevance in the moment.
Since the start of 2023, Goldin has sold just $160k in Iverson or Iverson-related lots. Kobe? $2.06 million. Ray Allen? $171k. Ray Allen is on par? No disrespect to Ray, he’s a legend. All-time great shooter, and certainly a competitive contemporary of Iverson throughout his career from UConn to Milwaukee and beyond. Though his career was longer, his star didn’t burn anywhere near as bright.
Volume stats from CardLadder further paint the picture of a less active Iverson market. Iverson volume over the last year has amounted to $1,572 per day on average. Kobe averages over $34k daily. Shaq averages $3.1k.
The most expensive price ever paid for a game-worn Iverson jersey (before The Crossover auction at Hunt) is $39,601, achieved earlier this year at Goldin. The jersey was photomatched to a February 1999 game in which AI scored 46 points. That’s just $1 more than what was paid in 2020 for the jersey he wore in his first away game as a rookie. You can start to see where the Hunt estimate comes from, given the lack of bigger ticket results.
In the last 12 months alone, 15 Kobe jerseys have sold at Goldin for more than Iverson's record amount. In fact, all 15 sold for $64k or more. Only 1 Kobe jersey has sold for less than Iverson’s record sale, and it was a non-photomatched piece. Meanwhile, in total, Iverson has had just 4 jerseys sell at Goldin in the last 12 months. To get to 15 Iverson game-worn jersey sales, you’d have to expand the last 12 months to the last four years.
The intent is not to make this into an AI vs. Kobe discussion. It truly is no contest. But once upon a time, it was. In fact, their cumulative All-Star votes were effectively equal from 2000 to 2006, despite Iverson playing in a smaller market. Again though, when you move from the top tier of collectable players into the next tier, the drop-off is extremely steep, regardless of disparities in available supply. Rational or not, logical or not, the market tends to be inert. If that’s the way the market has been structured, that’s often the way it’ll stay.
There are some signs of building Iverson momentum, though. There's the record Goldin sale, and then, just weeks ago, a Nuggets jersey (not as desirable as Sixers apparel) matched to 4 games sold at Sotheby's for $33,020, handily outperforming an $18,000 high estimate. Sometimes - not often - but sometimes, a breakout sale has the ability to change market perception, though. That’s what The Crossover jersey offers: an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of the connection Allen Iverson forged with fans in a mercurial career. The $50k high estimate simply will not do. It’ll take a mid six-figure result to do that. That would be The Answer. Anything less raises Questions.
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