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There’s a line outside of Atlanta’s Premium Kicks. Makes sense. Ask any rapper, athlete or local with decent fashion sense and they’ll tell you it’s the place to go for new Jordans.
But something’s different about this line. You don’t see the twentysomethings in Supreme hoodies impatiently pecking away at their phones; nah, these are older white guys in trucker hats.
When the security guard motions them in, they don’t walk to the left towards the wall of Air Maxes; they go to the right, through a glass door that leads them to another business under the same roof — the Card Shop. That queue outside? It’s actually formed for the first big card release of the new basketball season: 2020-21 NBA Hoops.
“The city was starving for some sports cards,” says Danny Coleman, who owns the shoe boutique and new card shop with his wife, Michelle. “I just gave it a shot and it exceeded my expectations.”
When you step back for a second, you realize the shoe and sports card worlds have a lot in common — obviously, they both generate an insane response on key release dates; each has incredibly knowledgeable collectors; and, they have secondary markets that thrive off the art of flipping.
So, when Quavo, of the rap trio Migos, stops by Premium Kicks for new sneaker heat, he checks out The Card Shop for cool releases, too. “His jeweler and agent were in [the Card Shop] and they put him on Facetime, letting him see stuff,” says Coleman, who welcomed the rapper in person a few days later and posted the visit on the shop’s Instagram page. “He was here almost two hours. He bought his whole entourage stuff [from Premium Kicks]. My shoe wall is suffering right now. He wants to start collecting. He’s all-around excited about sports cards.”
The Quavo situation is not unique. Like everyday folks all over the country since the start of the pandemic, celebrities are dropping big coins in the card industry, helping to fuel the most frenzied (and profitable) time in the hobby’s history. Many musicians are either exploring collectibles for the first time or reigniting a love from their youth.
World-renowned DJ Steve Aoki was heavy into cards during his youth. He admitted that, over time, he got distracted with ladies and, eventually, music. His collection gathered dust. But once the Vegas gigs and studio sessions slowed down in 2020, a close friend suggested he pick up the hobby again.
“During Covid is when some of my friends in their late 30s, early 40s, started tweeting about [card collecting],” Aoki tells Rolling Stone. “I didn’t really think about cards as having that much financial value. I thought they were just cardboard, you know? So, when my friend was like, ‘Yeah, I just bought this card for $15,000 on Twitter,’ I was like, ‘What?'”
Aoki was intrigued. He spoke more on the subject with that friend, investor/entrepreneur Dan Fleyshman, and another long-time homie, DJ Skee. Though he wasn’t fully convinced that cards would join vinyl, art and shoes as another adult interest, Aoki started a small card collection focused on big names like Jackie Robinson and Michael Jordan.
“It’s like fantasy sports, combined with stocks, combined with nostalgia combined with gambling,” says Aoki, who’s worked with everyone from T-Pain and Travis Barker to Topps, the iconic card company that collaborated with him for a beautiful baseball card set in 2020. “It’s like fantasy sports on steroids, but you can actually own the card.”
“It’s like fantasy sports combined with stocks combined with nostalgia combined with gambling.”
As Aoki dove into the hobby a little deeper, he realized Fleyshman had even bigger plans. “A year and a half ago,” says Fleyshman, “[influential entrepreneur] Gary Vaynerchuk asked me to come to Chicago to a sports card convention called The National. It’s the biggest [sports card] convention there is. I stopped by. Thought I was going for a few hours but ended up staying for a few days. I just kept changing my flight, which I normally don’t do. I could just see and feel Gary’s energy.”
Fast-forward about seven or eight months after that trip, and Fleyshman was texting with like-minded card enthusiasts on a group chat Vaynerchuk created. One of the guys half-jokingly said that somebody should open a card shop. Out of nowhere, Fleyshman agreed to do it.
Fleyshman had wanted to open a new location of his Everbowl healthy dining restaurant inside the W Hollywood and simply put the shop, Cards and Coffee, next door. But once things became all wacky last year, the leasing situation got murky.
Thankfully, DJ Skee had the perfect solution. “We just opened a 25,000-square-foot studio space on Hollywood Boulevard for DASH [digital radio],” says Skee. “Part of the space we had included rotating pop-up space and retail storefront on the most famous street in the world — the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Due to the pandemic, our timing for opening — in February 2020 — was less than ideal. We had this incredible space, so I connected with Dan.”
Most know DJ Skee for radio and TV appearances around L.A., not his savvy real estate skills. But the multi-dimensional personality is also a die-hard Minneapolis sports fan. “I’ve always been such a sports head,” says Skee, who the Minnesota Vikings use to curate music for home games. “So, it was kind of an excuse for me to go to games and get access. The card game was just a natural parallel for all those things that I’ve done in the sports world.”
Since its October 2020 opening, the threesome’s Cards and Coffee has done brisk business. But that’s the case virtually anywhere you look in the trading card world. While many other industries have been pummeled by the pandemic, this one has thrived. Some estimates have sports cards as a $5.4 billion industry. In January, eBay, easily the world’s premier marketplace for buying and selling cards, revealed that card sales soared more than 140 percent from 2019 to 2020, with basketball cards’ 373 percent increase leading the explosion.
Experts have hypothesized many things for the resurgence. Many say boredom from a year of self-isolating is the spark. Others insist we’re simply at a high point in the hobby’s natural cycle. Still some think it’s all the result of newfound interest from investors and Wall Street types. Whatever the case, when you see headlines like last December’s “Wayne Gretzky’s Rookie Card Sells for $1.29 million” or January’s “Mickey Mantle Iconic Rookie Card Auctions for $5.2 million,” heads turn.
In early February, Cards and Coffee made its own news splash, putting on a card break to raise money for charity. Card breaks are streamed events, usually held on IG Live or YouTube, where people pay to be randomly paired with a pro team or division. When those packs are broken open, you get the cards connected to your name. Fleyshman, DJ Skee and Aoki got Snoop Dogg, Rob Kardashian, Mark Wahlberg and other big names to participate.
The highlight of the night was the opening of a 1986 Fleer basketball box. For those uninitiated, that’s Michael Jordan’s rookie year. Rookie cards are generally the most coveted in the hobby. A box of the rare ’86 Fleer sold for $225,000 on eBay in January. An MJ card graded a 10 by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) went for more than $700,000 earlier this year on Goldin Auction.
While this particular break didn’t produce that coveted card, Snoop did open a pack with the next best thing in it — a Jordan sticker card. “What’s crazy is that first pack, first card was the Jordan,” says Fleyshman. “It’s insane. We’re opening the pack and you can see that card first. The first thing you see is Michael Jordan and everybody went nuts.”
Snoop has 17 Grammy nominations and an estimated net worth of $150 million. When you see his reaction from the card reveal, though, it’s almost as if none of that matters. It’s the thrill of the unknown. It’s the nostalgia. It’s the utter satisfaction you get when a card you’ve been hunting — a PSA 10 Jordan sticker like the one Snoop pulled recently sold for over $200,000 — lands in your hand.
Rob Kardashian knows the feeling. A collector since middle school, Kardashian still gets a kick out of opening boxes of football cards. And while he’s in a comfortable enough financial situation to go into any card shop or hop on eBay for whatever purchase he wants, Rob doesn’t let his famous last name stop him from enjoying the hobby online like everyone else.
“Sometimes,” says Kardashian, “if they see me in breaks, they’ll say ‘buy this or buy that.’ They think I’m made outta money. I don’t let anybody influence me to do stuff; I’m just in there as a normal person to enjoy myself. Most of the hobby, like 99 percent, they’re all good people. There are really no trolls. Even the breakers, they know what’s up. Everybody is real and it’s all about love. There’s really no negativity.”
“This whole hobby boomed during Covid because there were no sports. People wanted entertainment.”
Kardashian is a huge Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes fan. Brady’s 2000 Bowman Chrome rookie card sold for around $1,500 in early 2019. On February 19, 2021, that same PSA 10 card went for $32,000. But “I’m not here to invest,” Kardashian says. “I’m here to personally collect. It’s just fun for me. I love every single sport. I just want to be supporting all these breakers. This whole hobby boomed during Covid because there were no sports. People wanted entertainment. They went to Instagram Live for breaking cards and everything just blew up.”
And as crazy as it sounds, it’s only getting started. Young sports stars like the L.A. Chargers’ Justin Herbert and the Charlotte Hornets’ LaMelo Ball are creating as much buzz in the sporting card world as established names like Mike Trout and Kevin Durant. The aforementioned card-breaking phenomenon is only gaining in popularity at Cards and Coffee (known as The Coffee Breakers when they’re ripping packs), Jaspy’s Case Breaks, Pullwax and other virtual outlets. Then you have whole new subsects of the hobby like StarStock (a stock market for collectibles) and NBA Top Shot (digital trading cards) that some suggest will take things into a whole other stratosphere. And man, you don’t even want us to get started on the insanity that is Pokémon trading cards.
But no matter how exciting stuff seems, these major players caution you from diving head-first into the hobby. Snoop and Logic, another rapper who’s into card collecting, probably have more disposable income than you do, but they’re still smart about their shopping. “Don’t spend big at first,” says The Card Shop’s Coleman. “Buy some retails packs or blaster boxes. Make sure this is something you really want to do before investing a lot of money.”
Adds Aoki, “Say you love LeBron, right? Everyone loves LeBron. Go for a 2019. Those cards are not going to be nearly what his 2003 rookie years are. Get that card for $100. Own it. Get it slabbed [in a plastic container by a card grader]. It’s like a frame. Put it up on your wall or your mantle. You’ve got your LeBron card. Boom! The Lakers won [the NBA title] last year. Get it in his Lakers uniform and put it up. It all starts with what matters to you.”
When our world (hopefully) regains a semblance of normality this summer, of course, it’ll have an impact on the hobby’s popularity. For Aoki, Quavo and all the rest, they’ll have to figure out how to balance their cards with the concerts. But if you think a return to the stage will stop them from their newly found passion, you haven’t been listening clearly enough.
“We’ve actually been busier than ever, even though we’re not on the road,” says DJ Skee, who’s also hosting Card Clout, a cross-platform series about card culture. “We’re leaning into it heavy. We think it’s going to last. Like any market, there are going to be ups and downs, but we’re in it for the long run,” he says. “We don’t anticipate this changing anytime soon.”