The recent hobby boom has been an exciting time for collectors of all sports. As one might expect, trading cards from the traditional sports – baseball, basketball, football and hockey – have been moving hands at higher values and ever-increasing rates. However, the old saying that a rising tide lifts all boats is applicable here as well, as collectors have also been active in non-traditional areas and the results are being noticed. Fans of soccer, lacrosse, tennis and golf cards have also benefitted from the increased popularity of the hobby, and they have seen an uptick in the value of their collections. Another trading card subject that has experienced a recent explosion in popularity and value is that of women’s professional basketball, in particular the WNBA.
The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) was founded on April 22, 1996 and league play began in 1997. The regular season is played from May to September, only slightly overlapping with the NBA. The league finals typically run into early October. And while basketball fans know about Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Elena Delle Donne and other stars of the league, most collectors are just now realizing that these hoop heroines can be found on a variety of trading cards.
Pinnacle introduced the WNBA to the trading card world in 1997 with its 81-card, Inside the WNBA set. As the premiere issue of a first-year league, all 56 base cards in the set carry a rookie designation. The final 24 cards consist of “Hoops & Scoops” and “Style & Grace” subsets, and a numbered checklist. All 81 cards can also be found in the “Court Collection” and “Executive Collection” parallels. To make the set more unique and attractive to collectors, Panini issued packs inside metal cans rather than cardboard boxes. A can opener was actually required to access the cards.
Many legendary players made their trading card debut in this set. Cynthia Cooper leads the group in number of cards submitted to PSA for grading, with Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson following in her wake. Though Cooper has been submitted more frequently for grading, Lisa Leslie, who benefits from being the first card in the set, leads the charge in value. The population of Leslie cards in PSA 10 is roughly one-third that of Cooper. A PSA 10 Lisa Leslie base rookie card recently sold for $275 on eBay, while a PSA 10 Cooper sold in January for $174.99.
There are currently three different WNBA sets listed on the PSA Set Registry. The “WNBA 10th Anniv. Team” kicked things off in 2005. The “WNBA Top 15 Players” went live in 2011 and was followed by the “WNBA Top 20 Players” in 2016. There is strong participation within each set. However, with the WNBA celebrating its 25th Anniversary in 2021, there are now several exciting players who were not even in consideration when the 10th and 15th anniversary sets were determined.
Insert sets were just coming onto the scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Most of the earlier WNBA sets had accompanying inserts and even some autographed sets associated with them. Additionally, only one or two product lines were produced each year and while printed in smaller quantities than standard NBA cards, they were not necessarily limited. This allowed collectors to track different cards and ultra-high-grade examples notwithstanding, it was possible to locate most cards.
Rittenhouse held the WNBA license from 2005-2018 and issued trading cards in those years. Several insert sets were included in some releases while only base and autograph or rookie inserts were issued in others. Still, Rittenhouse was the only regular issue at the time and they produced rookie cards for a great number of WNBA stars including Breanna Stewart, Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne.
However, the insert landscape has changed greatly in recent years and WNBA cards are being produced alongside their NBA counterparts. Panini obtained the WNBA license and issued its first set under the Donruss brand in 2019. Panini issued a Prizm WNBA set in 2020 that timed perfectly with the massive growth in the hobby.
The 2020 Panini Prizm WNBA set consists of 100 base cards, each of which can be found with 15 parallels. Fifty-six insert and insert parallel sets are also associated with the release. Sabrina Ionescu is the hot rookie card in this product. The New York Liberty selected the University of Oregon star with the first pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft after she became the first collegiate player, man or woman, to total 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds in a college career. PSA 10 examples of her #89 base rookie card are selling for north of $350 with no sign of slowing. The more limited parallels are climbing much higher.
It’s an exciting time to be a collector. Not only are hobbyists seeing increased value in their collections, but attention is now being paid to athletes and cards that deserved recognition long ago. This should increase the number and diversity of those collecting cards, which can only be a benefit to us all!