David Robinson Rookie and Early-Career Cards: Market Value and Collectability

Posted on 11/16/2022

Here's how to find some of the best early David Robinson cards for your collection. Also, find out how grading can add value to your sports cards.

Considered one of the greatest centers in NBA history, David Robinson is basketball royalty. During his 14-season career with the San Antonio Spurs, Robinson was one of the most well-respected players in the league, on and off the court. He was a perennial All-Star who helped lead the Spurs to the 1999 and 2003 NBA championships. So, does Robinson's success in the pros translate to his sports cards as a potential investment for collectors? We'll dive further into his earliest issued cards and their values after we revisit the Spurs legend's iconic career.

From Naval Lieutenant to Rookie of the Year

Robinson was nicknamed "The Admiral" because he attended the United States Naval Academy, where he majored in math and played basketball. However, a height restriction of 6'6" prevented Robinson — who grew to 7'1" — from pursuing a career as a midshipman, although he was eventually promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. He was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 1987, but had to finish his Naval obligations before joining the team in 1989.

When Robinson joined the Spurs, they had the worst record in franchise history; but he led the team to the greatest single-season turnaround ever recorded in NBA history at the time. After taking the Spurs to the playoffs (where they lost to the Portland Trail Blazers), Robinson was named NBA Rookie of the Year and subsequently led them to the playoffs an additional seven seasons in a row. After leading the league in blocks during the 1991-92 season, Robinson was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year. That same year, he was drafted to the 1992 US Olympic Dream Team, capturing the gold medal in the Barcelona games, a feat he repeated in the 1996 Atlanta games.

In 1995, Robinson won the NBA's MVP trophy and finally achieved his goal of winning the NBA championship in the 1998-1999 season, defeating the New York Knicks. He went on to win another NBA championship in 2003 when the Spurs defeated the New Jersey Nets in the last season of his storied career. To cap this victory, Robinson and NBA Finals MVP Tim Duncan received Sports Illustrated's coveted "Sportsman of the Year" award.

Robinson would finish his career with 10 NBA All-Star appearances, with career averages of 21.1 points, 2.5 assists, 10.6 rebounds, 3 blocks and 1.4 steals over 987 regular season games. He was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History and was chosen for the NBA 75th anniversary team. In 2008, he was elected to the US Olympic Hall of Fame, and in 2009, he was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Investment Potential for Early David Robinson Cards

As a legendary player, David Robinson has a huge fanbase among basketball enthusiasts and San Antonio Spurs fans alike, and his early card values reflect this. Also, he signed many of his early sports cards, and these autographed examples are viewed as holy grail cards among collectors. If you're interested in autographed versions, look for ones signed with Robinson's moniker "The Admiral," as these are collector favorites. 

Sites like SportsCardsProSports Card Investor and PriceGuide.Cards track sports card and trading card values by monitoring recent auction sales. By searching these sites, you can quickly get an idea of the collector interest and average trending prices for Robinson's rookie cards.

David Robinson played during an era when sports card companies didn't issue scores of rookie cards to celebrate a prospect's debut. Subsequently, Robinson has only one true NBA rookie card, plus a second-series version of that card featuring a different image.

Fortunately for collectors, there's also a fun contest giveaway card that predates his official rookie release, plus three more first-year cards celebrating his sensational debut season and his achievement as Rookie of the Year. With only these six NBA cards to choose from, investors can enjoy the hunt, especially since prices for Robinson's early cards are still relatively affordable.

Best Early David Robinson Cards

Here's a list of David Robinson's earliest cards, including his one official rookie card:

  • 1989-1990 NBA Hoops Series 1 #138
  • 1990 NBA Hoops Rookie of the Year #270
  • 1990 Fleer Rookie Sensations #1
  • 1989-1990 NBA Hoops #310
  • 1990 Fleer Rookie #172
  • 1988-1989 Diamond Shamrock San Antonio Police

Here's how David Robinson's early cards are trending, according to top sites like SportsCardsPro and PriceGuide.Cards. All prices listed are for base cards unless otherwise indicated. Also, prices are constantly updated, so today's prices may differ from another day.

1989-1990 NBA Hoops Series 1 David Robinson #138 ($4,997)

David Robinson's first official rookie card is an interesting example of how sometimes, in a fluctuating sports card market, a card can initially be worth more money on issue. As part of the NBA Hoops Series 1 set, it garnered a lot of attention when it was released because it was rare for a first-year player to be featured on a Hoops card. As a result of the hype and short print run, it skyrocketed in price as soon as it was released — so much so, that counterfeits started hitting the market. 

This retro-vibe card features an image of a smiling Robinson in a dress suit, holding up his newly acquired Spurs jersey at what looks to be a press conference. The image is framed in a Deco-style arch in dark pink, with Robinson's name in bold black print at the top and the Spurs name in white at the bottom. The NBA Hoops logo is in the lower right corner.

PriceGuide.Cards shows a graded example (grade unspecified) selling for $4,997. According to SportsCardsPro, Ungraded examples start at $3.25, while Grade 7 sells for $3.50 and Grade 8 sells for $10.75. Grade 9 averages around $30, while 9.5 leaps up to $152.50, and Gem Mint tops out at $302.

1990 NBA Hoops Rookie of the Year David Robinson #270 ($3,999.99

Celebrating Robinson's unanimous choice as NBA Rookie of the Year, this card has some historic interest for collectors. It features a great in-game action shot of Robinson posting up looking for the ball. The image is framed in an arch surrounded by silver and dark pink edging. There's a bright yellow "Rookie of the Year" banner at the top with red, white and blue stars, and the Spurs logo is at the bottom. 

According to PriceGuide.Cards, top prices for a graded example (grade unspecified) have reached $3,999.99. On SportsCardsPro, an Ungraded example averages around $1, with Grades 9 and below selling for less than $7. A Grade 9.5 Near-Mint ranges around $15, while a Gem Mint example averages around $40.

1990 Fleer Rookie Sensations David Robinson #1 ($1,199.99)

Fleer's Rookie Sensations cards are always popular with collectors, and in this case, Fleer doesn't disappoint. With its trademark heavy-stock cardboard and cool action graphics, this card features a sharp-focus image of Robinson holding the basketball above his head, about to make a pass. The image is framed in vibrant blue, with the Rookie Sensation logo in bright yellow at the lower left. To add to its appeal, the back of the card features an engaging in-depth bio of Robinson that mentions how his career was delayed for two seasons due to Navy service, ending with the observation that the wait was well worth it.

PriceGuide.Cards tracks this card at a top price of $1,199.99 for a graded card (grade unspecified). According to SportsCardsPro, an Ungraded example sells for around $2.85, with Grade 7 selling for around $6 and Grade 8 selling for around $11. Grade 9 averages around $17, while Grade 9.5 jumps up to $110 and Gem Mint tops out at $.


1989-1990 NBA Hoops Series 2 David Robinson #310 ($500)

Included in the NBA Hoops Series 2 set, this second official rookie card is the first card featuring Robinson in action on a basketball court. The photo shows Robinson just before he shoots a free throw. Design-wise, the graphics are identical to Robinson's rookie card in the first set, with the dark pink archway and white background.

PriceGuide.Cards shows trending prices topping at $500 for a graded card (grade unspecified). On SportsCardsPro, Grades 8 and below sell for less than $9. Grade 9 sells for around $10, while Gem Mint goes for around $50.

1990 Fleer David Robinson #172 ($300)

This popular card celebrates Robinson's breakout rookie season by featuring a fantastic action shot of Robinson effortlessly dunking the ball through the hoop. The design features white borders with dark pink and white striping, highlighting the Spurs logo in the upper left corner.

PriceGuide.Cards shows top prices for a graded card (grade unspecified) at $300. At SportsCardsPro, prices average at less than $4 for Grades 8 and below, around $7 for Grade 9 and $30 for Gem Mint.

1988-1989 Diamond Shamrock San Antonio Police

As the first David Robinson NBA card to hit the market, this highly collectible example is a fun and still-affordable addition to any rookie card collection. It came in two identical versions, with one featuring a tear-off tab. As part of a contest promotion, the San Antonio Police gave these cards away to the public during a local anti-drug campaign.

Slightly oversized, these cards feature an appealing image of Robinson smiling at the camera, holding a basketball and wearing his Spurs jersey. The image is bordered by attractive black-and-white stripes, with the colorful Spurs banner at the top. One version of this card has a tear-off tab section where you can fill out your contact info to win a road trip with the Spurs.

While this card can be tough to find, a search of online auction prices shows it trending for just a few dollars in Ungraded and good condition, with higher grades going for a bit more. There doesn't yet seem to be an established market for this card, making it a great historic collectible for the future.

Where to Find Early David Robinson Cards

You can find early David Robinson cards for sale at auction sites across the internet, including:

Sports card and sports memorabilia shows are also great places to look for cards. You can find upcoming shows in your area through a quick Google search, or by checking community forums, social media pages and collecting sites.

How Are David Robinson Cards Graded?

Sports cards are graded by a long-established numeric grading system, which ranges from Ungraded to a Perfect 10. Here's what it looks like: 

Perfect 10: A Perfect 10 card is graded Gem Mint across all four grading criteria: corners, surface, edges, and centering. This card is the best of the best, and is flawless even under 10x magnification. 

Gem Mint: These cards are perfect, with no damage or stains, and retain their sharp corners and vibrant coloring.

Grade 9.6: Near-Mint condition, usually with just a minor flaw.

Grade 9: Excellent condition, usually with just a couple of minor flaws.

Grades 8 and below: These cards have flaws and/or damage and are priced accordingly.

Raw or Ungraded: Raw cards are new to the market, and typically have been just pulled from their packaging. Ungraded cards have never been graded.

There are three primary components to sports card values: Condition, demand and rarity. Of the three, condition is paramount. Likewise, demand and rarity go hand-in-hand, as one can fuel the other. If a rare card is in demand with collectors, prices can go as high as fans are willing to pay. However, rarity can also be deceptive, because not all rare cards are valuable. If a card doesn't have high collector interest, prices may stagnate, even if it's rare, while a more-common card may generate higher prices because it's so popular with collectors. Online bidding wars can be a factor too, especially if several high-roller collectors happen to want the same card on a given day.

Should I Get My Cards Graded?

Grading is a great way to add value and credibility to your collection. When cards are graded, they're individually certified in an international database and given an established condition grade. 

Professional grading can give your collection a recognized condition, which can be indispensable if you're planning to sell or trade any of your cards. With grading, your cards will have an established price point assigned by an expert appraiser.

Even if you're planning to hold onto your collection, grading can be an excellent way to help enhance its monetary worth, especially if you plan to leave it to friends or family members. By getting your cards graded, you can add extra value and authentication to your collection that will last for generations to come. 

Stay Informed

Want news like this delivered to your inbox once a month? Subscribe to the free CGC eNewsletter today!


You've been subscribed to the CGC eNewsletter.

Unable to subscribe to our eNewsletter. Please try again later.

Articles List

Add CGC Card

Create a Set

Join CGC for free to add cards, track your collection and participate in the CGC Trading Cards Registry or CGC Sports Cards Registry.

Join CGC

Already a member? Sign In
Add to CGC Card Registry Example
Add to CGC Card Registry Example