Digital NBA Trading Cards Sell For Thousands of Dollars

February 23, 2021

In February 2020 during a regular season NBA game, Lebron James performed a two-handed windmill slam dunk that he afterwards said was a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant. A clip of James’ dunk placed side-by-side with a nearly identical one of Bryant’s from 2001 quickly went viral and can be easily found from multiple sources on YouTube. Then again, you could also do what social media entrepreneur Jack Settleman did in January: pay $47,500 for a clip of the dunk through NBA Top Shot.

Founded in 2019, the digital trading card marketplace NBA Top Shot has skyrocketed in popularity and value in recent months. The platform was developed by the Vancouver-based tech firm Dapper Labs to utilize blockchain technology to trade “moments” like the Lebron James dunk. These short clips contain 3D animations, player statistics, and unique blockchain-generated serial numbers that can increase the value of a particular moment. For instance, the clip purchased by Settleman had the number 23 as its serial number, which is the same number on the back of James’ jersey. Top Shot’s moments come in packs that start at $9 and rise as high as $999 for limited runs like the “Holo Icon” pack.

Videos of people opening these digital packs can attract thousands of views if the lucky opener finds a valuable moment from a big-name player. Sometimes these videos are the only way for people to see packs open before their eyes since Top Shot tends to sell out of new packs within minutes. The site’s more than 50,000 users exchange millions of dollars daily selling cards on the Top Shot marketplace, with Dapper Labs taking a 5 percent cut of every transaction. While many moments from lesser-known players are priced as low as $2, a “rare” Jrue Holiday layup is listed at $200 and a Kyrie Irving “Holo Icon” moment starts at $2,175. “With physical cards, it’s just a photo,” said Settleman. “Your LeBron rookie card that’s worth thousands of dollars, it’s just a random picture of him in a Cavs jersey. These moments give you the ability to actually watch and have more meaning behind it.” 

Questions:

  1. Why are moments from NBA Top Shot selling for thousands of dollars on the site’s marketplace?
  2. Do you think NBA Top Shot moments should be worth so much money? Why or why not?

Source: Sean Highkin, “Inside ‘NBA Top Shot,’ the Digital Highlights Marketplace Worth Millions,” Bleacher Report, February 19, 2021. Photo by Paulo Rosa.

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