What I Learned From Collecting Basketball Cards

I was reading someone’s blog post the other day, and randomly this flashback of collecting basketball cards came to mind (wtf?). I wish I could remember what I was reading, but whatever it was got me thinking about how I changed up my game plan after years and years of trading (at 12 years old, none the less) cuz it just wasn’t working anymore ;) And a lot of that mindset is still very much with me today. Only now, the stakes are higher, and we’re dealing with paper that IS actual money, over paper that *could be* money if given the right buyer, haha…

Back in the day, I was a total addict to trading cards.  I’d collect baseball, football, NKOTB (that kinda dates me, doesn’t it?), and pretty much anything else that my friends were doing at the time.  My favorite, though, was basketball.  I’d trade the $hit out of basketball cards ;) I’d trade and trade and trade, until one day it dawned on me that all I was doing was passing cards around with no real goal at the end. I mean, yeah – I was making some killer trades and getting incredible cards saved up over time, but it occurred to me that I wasn’t ever loyal to just one player, or “kind” of card, or anything.  Whatever I traded today, would most likely go out the window next week, and it was like a never ending pattern of just passing cards around w/out any real game plan going on. Which was fine, and fun, especially for a kid trying to keep himself occupied, but as soon as I had a MISSION to go for it totally changed the game for me.

And that mission was trying to create my own little empire of Michael Jordan cards :) I figured if there was one guy that was ALWAYS gonna be worth something, and who’d never just disappear off the face of the Earth like so many others, I might as well pick the best one out there :) And the end game of my collecting finally had a purpose now:  Collect (and hold onto) as many Michael Jordan cards as I possibly can. I could trade and sell everything else I had in stock, but the trick at the end was to keep having those dwindle and dwindle (and to be used as trading power FOR the M.J. cards) until all I’m left with is a stack of the most valuable cards around. A portfolio of #23s.

For anyone who collects cards, or used to collect, you can imagine how much harder this goal became. Since I wasn’t always going for *any* card worth something anymore, my dealings and people who I dealt WITH had to be slimmed down quite a bit. Especially since everyone  and their mom were going after the same player themselves – Jordan being the most popular guy around, of course. My idea wasn’t *that* novel ;) And making it hard when my friends refused to trade the one or two cards I now only cared about in those grubby little hands of theirs, haha… and back then there was no internet, or eBay, to make the game easier (and less fun?) like there is today.

After a few years, I quickly outgrew the sport though, and moved on to other important things like grades and girlfriends (Woot!). But those last years of  trading with my new system in place racked up more than 200 Jordans all in all, leaving me with a MUCH more solid portfolio than I had started with (and which I still have in my possession today). Of course I still have the 2,000+ cards of the other players that probably left the game around the same time I did, haha, but it would have been a lot higher had I not switched tracks when I did. And how much do you think I could have sold a lot of 5,000 random cards for? Not a lot, that’s for sure.  Now switch in the 200 prime, and somewhat valuable, Michael Jordan cards! A LOT more sexier, I can tell you that.  And your grandma could probably too – everyone knows the best players are always worth the most in trading baseball or basketball cards.  The same with Babe Ruth & all the other Hall of Famers our parents once collected 50+ years ago (who didn’t save them for us so we could all be filthy rich! haha…).

But what I’m trying to get at with this freakishly long example of mine, is that trading, just like with saving money, is all good and dandy, and will accomplish the stuff you set out to do, BUT, having a more direct, solid GOAL, gets you much much farther in the end. I’m the king of hoarding money, but when there’s no reason attached to it, it really doesn’t feel as good as *knowing* what it’s supposed to be used for. Even though financially the numbers remain the same.

I’ll give you a better, and more direct, example ;) Remember the other week when I got that $150 for doing that phone survey for an hour? And I got all excited cuz it was the easiest, and most fun, way of ever getting paid before? Well, guess what happened after I got it? Nothing. I just saved it into my checking account and let it sit there. Waiting for it’s purpose to show up one day. And how excited do you think I was for that $150 in that account? I don’t know, maybe a 7 out of 10? Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE me some money, but $150 sitting there doing nothing vs. $150 applied to an awesome goal, is MUCH more tangible (and fun) than having no reason for it to exist at all.

So, just like with the basketball cards, I gave it a purpose. I allocated it to just stuff that I’ve been really really wanting lately, but which I could never budget in because it was too “want-like” over “need-based.” In effect, I made it my Splurge Account :) It’s literally the same $150 there, as it was in the savings account, only NOW it has a reason to be there! To satisfy my random cravings without giving me a full guilt trip! So now all of a sudden I’m back to being excited again, and actually a lot more thankful for having the opportunity to receive it, than I was the day it came in the mail.

All this to say GIVE YOUR MONEY A PURPOSE! Whether it’s for debt, college, a new couch – it doesn’t matter. If you can get into the habit of making your money do the things you want it to do, rather than lumping it all together just for the sake of saving, I think you’d come to have a much better appreciation for it like I did. Or maybe you’re already doing that cuz you’re a faster learner than I? ;)

Either way, if anyone wants to buy a box full of awesomely valuable Jordan cards, you know where to find me. I wonder how much they’ve earned over the past 20 or so years collecting dust?

PS: Yup, those are my cards up top!

UPDATE (2011): I already splurged and got this dope backpack I’ve been wanting for a while now :) (the blue & black plaid one)

UPDATE (2021):
I sold my card collection! Almost exactly 10 years later! 😂 Partnered up with another blogger who hustles in cards, and he ended up buying them all from me for $350 after assessing them around $500 retail… He gets a win at keeping a few for his collection and then profiting off the rest when he sells them, and I get a win having them out of my basement and mind! Most were fairly common and worth maybe $0.50 each, but there were a few surprises in there too, so def. worth doing some research before dumping any of your own if you’re tired of them as well… Not all are worth just the cardboard they’re printed on!

(Visited 187 times, 1 visits today)

Get blog posts automatically emailed to you!


  1. Melissa August 25, 2011 at 7:33 AM

    That is a great idea, J. Money! I find myself getting into that trap a lot, too. It’s all about the saving money, and then I feel guilty anytime I spend money on ANYTHING! One way I combat it is by allowing myself to spend a portion, or even all, of any “found” money (freelance income, or my quarterly GST cheques) on something I’d been wanting. If there’s nothing I’ve been longing for, then I just put it in the bank, but if I’ve been dreaming of, say, a new bedspread, and I just got a freelance cheque for $200, then yeah, I’m totally buying that new bedspread. (And putting the remainder in the bank.) Can’t be all savings and no play!

  2. Whirlin' Dervish August 25, 2011 at 8:54 AM

    Who is this Michael Jordan character that you speak of?
    Never heard of him.

    Amazingly, there is big, Big, BIG money in the collectibles market. The Honus Wagner card sold for, what, a little short of $3M (yeah, that’s M as in MILLION) a few years ago.

  3. ShoeGal August 25, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    I do that a lot to, but I separate the bank accounts and each one has a purpose. So that lets me get excited that the money is going to a vacation or something slightly less exciting, but it does have a purpose.

  4. Eric J. Nisall August 25, 2011 at 9:59 AM

    You just described my childhood! For me, it was all about baseball and hockey, and a little bit of Garbage Pail Kids but never touched NKOTB (they came and left while I was in junior high and all the guys hated them). It’s funny how at a certain point you drop all that stuff for the ladies, isn’t it?

    Your point about having a goal is really important. Without a goal to reach, it’s kind of like just going through the motions and there isn’t that added motivation or drive. Of course, that can be said about anything, really.

  5. cashflowmantra August 25, 2011 at 10:40 AM

    Now you have to give a purpose to your splurge account. So what are you gonna buy?

  6. Clever Dude August 25, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    Perhaps your “Goal” idea came from my recent Dreams/Ambitions/Goals/Plans article? Hmmmmmm….

    My dad and uncle are stuck with hundreds or thousands of cards, much like so many collectors. There’s a few that they can sell, but not in this market and nowhere near enough to recoup all the money they spent collecting. But you know what, when we were collecting, it was awesome and fun. It was something that me and my dad (and uncle) could do together. We went to card shows, specialty shops, etc. and bonded on it. But as an investment, poor idea.

  7. Jen @ Master the Art of Saving August 25, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    I used to save trading cards too, mostly basketball, baseball and Magic cards. The crazy thing is that I barely remember it now (only 29) but I know that I loved it. When I was 19, my roommate moved out while I was out of town and he took ALL my cards. I was so p*ssed, those would be worth so much now, especially the Magic cards—I was hoarding those since they first came out. :-(

    Anyway, I know what you’re saying about the saving w/ a purpose. That’s what we have to do, otherwise it’s hard to stay motivated and not touch it.

  8. J. Money August 25, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    @Melissa – Haha, yeah! That’s a great idea :) I used to do that too, until my “side money” became my “full-time money!” :) Gotta love it though.
    @Whirlin’ Dervish – Oh for sure! Honus Wagner is like the DREAM card for all card collecters!! I actually have some Mickey Mantles saved up too (figured I’d do the same thing there, as I did w/ Jordan in BBal cards – but a LOT harder! haha…), but never got my hands on a tobacco card yet… I’ll have to pick up some random guy at some point just so I can have a small piece of history :)
    @ShoeGal – I like that :) Great idea.
    @Eric J. Nisall – YEAH! Forgot about Garbage Pail Kids! Those were *awesome*… not really any money in it back then, but still cool and fun to collect :) And stick! (I bet some of those guys are worth something now though?)
    @Erin – YES! You know what’s funny? I started reading it like 5 years ago on a trip down to Florida to help pack up my Grandma’s stuff (she was moving out of her 20 y/o apartment), but I accidentally PACKED IT UP!!! And for a whole year it was drivin me crazy cuz I couldn’t find it until my mom said it was prob. in the boxes, haha… She bought me another for Christmas, but my interest passed ;) Still have it here near my desk though, was fun from what I remember.
    @cashflowmantra – Haha, already picked up a nice backpack! We’ll see what else comes to mind as we go along :)
    @Clever Dude – Oh yeah, lots of fun for sure! I miss card shows :( Wanna go to one together one day? Might be fun to get flooded with old memories. I’ll even buy you a pack of cards! ;) (nah, wasn’t your article, but I really liked it!)
    @Josh D. – HAH! Really? That is so freakin’ awesome… I’m totally going over to check ’em out, thanks dude :) Such a great idea for a blog…
    @Jen @ Master the Art of Saving – YEAH! I remember Magic cards!! Haha… I never did anything with them (was a totally different niche), but man – those things were crazy popular back in the day. Sucks you don’t have them anymore, what an a-hole.

  9. Evan August 25, 2011 at 4:30 PM

    Collecting NKOTB anything says more about you than just your age….OOOO DISSSSSSS (do people still use dissed?)

    1. J. Money July 28, 2013 at 10:26 AM

      haha…. I believe the new terminology is “pwnd” ;)

  10. Eric J. Nisall August 25, 2011 at 8:42 PM

    LOL @Evan. I actually heard someone talking about dissing others on ESPN recently.

    @J I have a box of stuff that is stashed at my parent’s house. Bunch of rookie cards mostly, and a heck of a lot of auto’d cards but not so sure any are worth much these days.

    1. J. Money July 28, 2013 at 10:26 AM

      Probably not much. You should sell them all to me for a dollar ;)

  11. No Waste July 26, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    I own thousands of cards, which are mostly worthless now (at least according to price guides).

    The value is all in the memories. So I’m devising a way to display some of my favorites.

    Now the hobby is dominated by collectors just looking for “hits” with autographs and game-used material attached.

    Just not the same…

    1. J. Money July 28, 2013 at 10:27 AM

      I know, it’s weird seeing pieces of uniforms or bats on a baseball card. Kinda cool I guess as a kid to be able to own a part like that, but def. a strange twist on the hobby over the years… kinda itching to buy a pack now, haha…

  12. D. Montoya March 3, 2015 at 7:29 AM

    Your cards are worth the same as anyone else’s cards – a little less than half of what you paid for them. That makes the rate of return to date somewhere south of -50%.

    1. J. Money March 3, 2015 at 11:21 AM

      Assuming you paid money for them ;)

  13. Ryan April 25, 2020 at 10:58 AM

    What you think about your 200 jordan cards now? Prbly worth 8-20 thousand dollars

    1. J. Money April 27, 2020 at 6:17 AM

      Haha, if I was in dreamland!!

      I decided to keep two of my favorites and depart with the rest, so if you’re looking for 198 new cards to your collection you know where to find me ;)