Best Basketball Cards Of The 1970s: Top 5 Collectibles, According To Experts

The NBA has become a global game. Because of that, collecting basketball cards has become a very popular hobby across the world, thanks in part to international superstars like Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo. With the industry exploding since the COVID-19 pandemic, collectors have been eyeing the more modern cards, but that doesn’t mean you should turn away from vintage, especially cards from the 1970s. That’s why StudyFinds has come up with a list of the best basketball cards from the ’70s.

Basketball cards aren’t the only highly collectible memorabilia on the market today. The ever-popular Nike Air Jordans aren’t just for sneakerheads — they’re also coveted among collectors. The most sought is the Air Jordan I, which can go for as much as $30,000. Other favorite pairs include the Air Jordan IV and the Air Jordan III.

Air Jordans aren’t the only sneakers collectors go for. Others include the Nike LeBron XX (20) and the Nike KD 15. Those sneakers are in the $125-$200 range to buy. Investing in collector’s items enters you into an elite community of basketball fans with an appreciation for the sport unlike any other.

Are you ready to upgrade your collection? Thanks to online experts, StudyFinds has put together a list of the top five best basketball cards from the 1970s. Did we miss one? Let us know in the comments below.

Basketball cards
Basketball cards (Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash)

The List: Best 1970s Basketballs Cards, According to Collectors

1. 1972 Topps Julius Erving Rookie Card

Julius Erving was an innovator of the slam dunk in basketball. “Dr. J” soared through the air getting to the rim, mesmerizing basketball fans in the process. One of the greatest basketball players of all time, Erving was a 16-time All-Star, a four-time MVP and a three-time champion across the ABA and NBA, making his 1972 Topps rookie card a sought-after collectible.

1972 Topps Julius Erving Rookie Card
1972 Topps Julius Erving Rookie Card

“This 1972 Topps Julius Erving Rookie Card #195 card is his rookie card and undoubtedly his most valuable card,” writes Cardbase. “It features a young Julius Erving, then a member of the Virginia Squires in the ABA, on a simple background that is reminiscent of much of the early 1970s Basketball cards. While not a perfect condition card, this PSA 9 Mint copy is the best we’ve seen and that’s why it went for $50,000 in February 2021. While a few versions of the same card at the same grade sold later for a bit less, we can expect to see those numbers rise over time. People won’t soon forget the immortal Dr. J and his exceptional efforts on the court.”

“It’s a classic card from a visual perspective. Topps went with a colorful, retro design with an image of Erving in his ABA Virginia Squires. It’s a classic,” notes All Vintage Cards. “Like the other basketball rookie cards worth money on this list, Erving’s rookie card has plentiful supply. PSA has graded over 5,000 copies, making it an affordable buy for many collectors. There’s only one PSA 10 (Gem-Mint) #195 Erving rookie card in existence and about 200 PSA 9 (Mint) copies. PSA 9 Erving rookie cards have averaged $20,000+, making it one of the most valuable basketball cards in the hobby. The good news? Ungraded or lower graded copies can be found on eBay for less than $100.”

The Cardboard Connection referred to Erving as “one of modern basketball’s greatest innovators.” “While the 1970s brought many superstars to the game, few reached the pedestal Erving is placed upon. A two-time ABA champion and one-time NBA champion, Dr. J is one of the all-time basketball greats. The 1972-73 Topps Julius Erving rookie card is, to many, the most iconic basketball rookie card of the decade. It’s also one of only a couple that is likely to cost you more than a couple of hundred dollars.”

2. 1970 Topps Pete Maravich Rookie Card

Pete Maravich was an absolute wizard with the basketball in his hands. “Pistol Pete” averaged an astounding 44 points per game during his college career at Louisiana State University. Even though injuries cut short his 10-season NBA career, Maravich was named an All-Star five times.

1970 Topps Pete Maravich Rookie Card
1970 Topps Pete Maravich Rookie Card

“There have been thousands of college basketball players over the past four decades. And then there is Maravich,” writes Sports Collectors Daily. “He actually had a stellar NBA career but Maravich will forever be identified with floppy socks and the gold and purple colors of LSU. The numbers seem impossible, even if the Tigers’ offense was built for him to do virtually everything. His 44.2 ppg scoring average is to college hoops what Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is to baseball. Maravich scored 3667 total points…in three varsity seasons. Keep in mind that he never played with a three-point line either. If he had that luxury, a study showed he would have averaged 57.”

“The 1970 Topps Pete Maravich Rookie Card #123 is a ‘Tall Boy’ card, which is taller than the average sports trading card. While Topps stopped producing these cards in the mid-1970s, this year was a particularly good one for key players and rookies,” notes Cardbase. “Pete joined the NBA as one of the most promising of the bunch after a career in college ball that had ESPN name him the greatest college player ever in 2005. On the 1970 Topps Basketball card, Pistol Pete looks unassuming enough, but once he was on the court, he was a dominant player who was an expert in long-distance shots. Sadly, the 3-point rule only showed up officially in the NBA in the last couple of years of his play.”

Last Word on Sports called Maravich’s 1970 Topps rookie card “one of the most iconic and sought after basketball cards in history.” “Maravich was one of the most talented and exciting players in the game, and his rookie card is highly coveted by collectors due to its rarity and historical significance. The card features a young Maravich in his Atlanta Hawks uniform and is widely considered one of the most visually striking basketball cards ever produced. In 2021, a PSA 10 graded copy of this card sold for $670,000 at auction, setting a new record for the most expensive Pete Maravich card ever sold and highlighting the enduring popularity and value of this legendary basketball card.”

3. 1970 Topps Pat Riley Rookie Card

It’s the only card in the top five list that’s a favorite among collectors not for his playing career, but for what he’s done in coaching and as an executive. Pat Riley was a decent basketball player for nine seasons during his NBA career, but he’s best known for leading the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat to multiple championships as a coach and an executive.

1970 Topps Pat Riley Rookie Card
1970 Topps Pat Riley Rookie Card

“Most collectors buying the 1970-71 Topps Pat Riley rookie card are doing so based on his coaching career. In LA, Riley won four championships during the Lakers heydays of the 1980s, teams that featured Magic Johnson and Kareem. Riley also won another championship as head coach of the Miami Heat in 2006,” says All Vintage Cards. “Pat Riley’s rookie card has only been graded 900 times by PSA, and the card’s large size has made the cards quite condition sensitive. There are no PSA 10 copies and only 14 PSA 9 copies. Thus, scarcity at the PSA 9 grade makes the Riley rookie card one of the most valuable issues of the 1970s.  Recent sales of PSA 9 copies have averaged $3000 at auction, but the last sale was in 2021.”

“Before becoming one of the greatest coaches in NBA history (and a darn good executive, too), Pat Riley was an athletic swingman who carved out a respectable niche as a journeyman role player over a nine-year career,” writes Old Sports Cards. “Riley’s first stop with the San Diego Rockets ended after three years following the 1969-70 season when the team sold his rights to the Los Angeles Lakers. The former Kentucky Wildcats standout logged the lowest minutes-per-game total of his career in 1970-71, seeing action for just 9.4 minutes per game with the star-laden Lakers. He averaged just 4.9 points on a modest 41.3% shooting, tacking on per-game averages of 1.3 assists and one rebound.”

Because of his coaching accolades, Riley was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. “Pat Riley worked a great deal on the sidelines as a player. He had little influence in helping the Lakers won the League title in 1972, but he kept pushing and became one of the finest coaches in the game. He was only an assistant coach during the 1980 title win for Los Angeles,” notes American Legends. “He then worked as the head coach for the next five years (four years with the Lakers). Riley’s Topps rookie card from 1970-71 has an odd photo but a famous design. As with 1976-77, the collection was oversized as Topps explored something new.”

4. 1974 Topps Bill Walton Rookie Card

After a legendary college career at UCLA, Bill Walton took the NBA by storm in 1974. Despite missing four seasons due to injuries, Walton was a two-time All-Star and a two-time NBA champion.

1974 Topps Bill Walton Rookie Card
1974 Topps Bill Walton Rookie Card

“The 1974 Topps Bill Walton Rookie Card #39 card features a young Bill Walton in his Trail Blazers uniform, with his shaggy 1970s hair in a basic portrait shot. As with so many cards on this most valuable 1970s Basketball cards list, the design is simple but the interesting element is how they seemed to color in the image with day-glo hues more reminiscent of the design of the early 1980s. It’s kind of an anomaly here: A more intriguing design among a list of pretty static designs so common in this era of the game,” writes Cardbase. “Once again, this is a card that PSA notes as having few in their record books in the way of additional copies. That is why a PSA 10 Gem Mint copy fetched an impressive $36,900 when it was purchased in May 2021.”

“Bill Walton was one of the most beloved, respected, and talented players in the history of the NBA. Walton is one of only four players in the history of basketball to have won multiple NCAA and multiple NBA Championships,” notes All Vintage Cards. “Walton’s 1974-75 Rookie card is the most valuable basketball card in the 1974-75 Topps set. A great set which also features the rookie card of ‘Ice Man’ George Gervin.”

The Cardboard Connection listed Walton’s 1974 Topps rookie card one of the ten most valuable basketball rookie cards of the ’70s. “One has to wonder if the 1974-75 Topps Bill Walton rookie card was the inspiration for Michael J. Fox’s makeup in Teen Wolf. The colors, styles and hair leave little doubt as to the era this card is from. Walton was a superstar even before he played in his first NBA game. A three-time Naismith College Player of the Year and two-time AP College Player of the Year, Walton helped lead UCLA to a pair of NCAA Championships. Although injuries plagued his NBA career, Walton still amassed several accolades and won a pair of NBA World Titles. He then went on to a successful broadcasting career.”

5. 1975 Topps Moses Malone Rookie Card

Moses Malone might be the most underrated superstar in NBA history. Drafted straight out of high school in 1974, Malone was the final piece of the puzzle for the Philadelphia 76ers’ 1982-83 NBA championship team. Over 21 seasons, Malone was a 13-time All-Star and a three-time MVP. “This 1975 Topps Moses Malone #254 card is considered his ABA rookie card and it’s a dazzler,” says Cardbase. “Showing Malone’s 6 ’10’ ‘ frame leaping higher while a player from the other team stumbles below is perhaps an ideal way to remember Malone’s dominant play when a rebound was on the line. This action shot is perhaps the best on this list since it shows the player at his best and on the court.”

1975 Topps Moses Malone Rookie Card
1975 Topps Moses Malone Rookie Card

“Moses Malone’s 1975-76 Topps Rookie card won’t win any awards for design. The Topps set featured full size card photos and the image quality is pretty fuzzy, and to say the least ugly,” writes All Vintage Cards. “PSA has graded over 2,000 Moses Malone rookie cards, with 38 earning a Gem-Mint, PSA 10 grade, and over 450 PSA 9 (Mint) grades. Perfect, PSA 10 copies have sold for over $40,000, whereas a PSA 9 sells for around $1,000 on eBay.”

The Cardboard Connection also has Malone’s 1975 Topps rookie card as part of its top ten most valuable basketball rookie cards of ’70s list. “If you can get over the fact that his face is tough to distinguish, the photo on Moses Malone’s 1975-76 Topps rookie card is impressive, capturing a lot of action in both the foreground and background. A three-time NBA MVP, Malone helped the 76ers sweep the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1983 finals. Among the league’s top ten all-time leading scorers, Malone was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. Even still, collectors should be able to find a professionally graded near-mint copy of his rookie card for under $50.”

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

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About the Author

Matt Higgins

Matt Higgins worked in national and local news for 15 years. He started out as an overnight production assistant at Fox News Radio in 2007 and ended in 2021 as the Digital Managing Editor at CBS Philadelphia. Following his news career, he spent one year in the automotive industry as a Digital Platforms Content Specialist contractor with Subaru of America and is currently a freelance writer and editor for StudyFinds. Matt believes in facts, science and Philadelphia sports teams crushing his soul.

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