Jalen Brunson owns New York, but has his collectibles market moved?

Despite breakout playoff performance, Brunson's card market still a bit muted

Cover Image for Jalen Brunson owns New York, but has his collectibles market moved?
Jalen Brunson broke Bernard King's long-standing team playoff record with his 47-point performance Sunday in Philadelphia. (Credit: Getty Images)

Modern collectors (read: flippers) like to believe card prices and on-court performance are highly correlated, as if it's one big game of fantasy basketball.

While over time that might be true — it's not normally the case simply on the basis of one big game.

Prior to 2021, nobody was paying more than $3,000 for the 2015 National Treasures Nikola Jokic No. 152 Rookie Autographs /99 (PSA 10), but by February 2023, after he secured his second MVP, the card sold for $35,000.

In the short-term, however, even for players who garner headlines and accolades for historic leaps and performances, that same "pop" is far-less pronounced (and sometimes nonexistent).

Take the newly crowned King of New York, Jalen Brunson.

Coming off a season in which he managed to sneak into the MVP conversation and a day after leading the Knicks to a stunning 97-92 victory at Philadelphia 76ers for a 3-1 series lead, scoring a franchise playoff-record 47 points and dishing out 10 assists, his card prices have seen a muted impact.

While his CardLadder index (which includes five cards, all valued between $35 and $272.50) has grown significantly since October 2023 (+128.01%), that number becomes far less impressive when the time period is altered to view the data from Feb. 11 to today. His card sales in that index only grew by 6.18%, despite Brunson’s historic close to the regular season (a 10-game scoring outburst in which he dropped a career-high 61 and averaged 37.8 points per game to give the Knicks the No. 2 seed).

It appears collectors paid some interest to Brunson’s investment potential during one of his midseason performance peaks, specifically during the first week of February when Brunson dropped 40 points against the Pacers (Feb. 1) and 36 against the Lakers (Feb. 3). That week, seven cards sold that are now among Brunson’s 20 most valuable, including the record-breaking $16,800 price paid for his 2018-19 1/1 rookie patch auto NBA logo man Feb. 8. Five days prior, his fourth highest-sale occurred at PWCC via a fixed price sale of a 2018 National Treasures RPA /99 ($7,999).

Considering the activity from that week, one would expect his playoff performance to drive even greater speculation in the market. But we hardly witnessed anything of the sort. Yes, we did see his second-most valuable card (a 2022 1/1 logo man) notch $15,600 in an auction April 21 (before his record-breaking Game 4 performance Sunday afternoon) and a $5,211 sale of his 2018 RPA Black Box 1/1, but one would expect a larger jump considering Brunson’s rise.

To be fair, that surely shows some legitimate activity at the high-end (earlier in the month Sotheby's sold warm-up sets from 22 different players from this year's NBA All Star Game, with Brunson’s placing second ($13,970) behind only Stephen Curry).

Only one of the top-five sales of Brunson's 2018 Panini Prizm came in the last month.
Only one of the top-five sales of Brunson's 2018 Panini Prizm came in the last month.

But at the low- and mid-end where the majority of collectors transact, we have seen a far-less pronounced rise. Two of the four top sales of his 2018 Silver Prizm Jalen Brunson No. 250 (PSA 10) came in April 2022 (including the top sale, $400) and the other two came in February of this year. Only one sale from this month cracked the top five.

It’s a similar story for his base prizm rookie (PSA 10). You need to look down the list to his sixth highest-sale of the card to find a comp this month, with four of his top five occurring in 2022.

What this means — not that this is novel — is that cards are not simply a reflection of player performance, but rather, indicative of a basket of factors including:

Initial excitement: Brunson's pop in 2022 sales came around the time of his first flash of star-power during the Mavericks first-round series against the Utah Jazz, when Brunson stepped up in Luka Dončić’s absence to become just the third player to score more than 40 points in a playoff game despite lacking first-round draft pedigree, All-Star distinction or All-NBA selection.

Availability of high-end, relatively illiquid cards: Without his most-coveted cards, like his National Treasures RPAs, on the market for collectors to immediately purchase during or after a historic performance, the market struggles to surge.

The cyclical nature of NBA card prices. With cards often falling in the off season and rising mid-season, this cycle impacts buyers’ willingness to jump into the Brunson market at the tail-end of the season.

Will Stern is a reporter and editor for cllct.