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The Wind Beneath His (8-Foot) Wings: Wembanyama Summer League Debut Jersey Sells for Big Money

The Wind Beneath His (8-Foot) Wings: Wembanyama Summer League Debut Jersey Sells for Big Money
November 2, 2023
Dylan Dittrich

Photo: NBA Auctions

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Over the last 30 days, sales volume of Victor Wembanyama trading cards on eBay trails only one active NBA player.

LeBron James.

LeBron's $1.57 million in sales volume edges Wemby's $1.32 million. There is, however, a slight difference in inventory to account for. LeBron cards have been issued for two decades. Wembanyama cards have barely been available for two months, and the most sought-after and mainstream sets containing his true rookie cards have yet to be released. But here we are. He's given ultra-modern basketball collectors reason to hope once again. And by "hope," we mean spend large sums of money erratically.

Back in August, we marveled at his appeal to collectors, and that appeal has only grown since. In October alone, collectors paid more than $10,000 for a Wembanyama card on seven separate occasions.  Bowman University and Topps Now autographed parallels have captured the fancy of enterprising collectors seeking early entry to the high-end Wemby market. But it's often the case that being early to a party is the least cool thing a person can do. Is that still the case when late arrivals from Prizm and National Treasures - typically the party's VIPs - may not feature autographs?

While the formation of the rookie's card market is unprecedented due to his agreement with Fanatics, there are fewer uncertainties for his memorabilia. Thus far, just one NBA jersey has hit the market: the Spurs jersey worn in his first NBA Summer League game. It sold through NBA Auctions last week for $62,020. Allen Iverson, this one's for you. We're talking Summer League. Not a regular season debut. Not a regular season game. Basically practice. Summer League....and it was a performance that most agreed didn't dazzle.

For context, the NBA debut (regular season, not summer league) jersey of Paolo Banchero, last year's #1 draft pick, sold for $75,820. The debut jersey of the prior season's top pick, Cade Cunningham, sold for $33,120.

Wembanyama's arrival comes amid an ongoing market reset for ultra-modern basketball. The young cohort that previously starred is delivering less interest. Stars like Luka, Ja, Zion, and Lamelo (among others) generated sales volume in Q3 at Goldin that was 44% lower than it was a year prior despite a massive increase in lots sold. The return to earth over the last year has been rapid and deflating, and the search for the bottom continues. If you consult CardLadder player indices for most of the collectible basketball darlings of the boom, you'll notice the unflinching march lower usually began right around Halloween 2021. The last two years have been unkind, sending many card values approximately 70% lower.

But now the dawn of a new season has arrived, the crisper temperatures of fall matching the cooling market. For many stars, it will take an MVP-caliber, championship-winning effort to propel cards to higher values in the short term; believe it or not, despite the big man bias, Nikola Jokic cards are indeed one of the big winners of the last year. Absent that type of achievement, perhaps a 7'4 frame with supernatural athletic ability is enough? The market is eager, and the Frenchman's early performances have done little to deter its excitement.

A lot of pressure and a lot of money rides on Victor Wembanyama's 8-foot wingspan.

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