A full guide on the pros and cons of PSA grading for NBA basketball cards
One of the existential questions for collectors of basketball cards is whether or not to send specific NBA basketball cards in for grading with a service like Beckett or PSA (Pro Sports Authority).
If you’re a long-term basketball card collector, deciding to grade or not grade cards is a decision you’ll have to make on a regular basis as you acquire great cards.
There are a variety of factors and personal motivations to consider when determining whether or not to get a card graded. Let’s dive into as as many of them here as possible!
What is PSA grading for NBA basketball cards?
PSA grading (also can be done through Beckett or some other lesser-known and used grading services) is an industry-standardized card grading service. You send in your sports card and they give it a grade out of 10 points.
The main factors the grading services consider with each card is the centering of the card, any visual printing errors (misaligned foil, for instance), and the edges/corners.
Once a grade is given to each card, it’s placed in a tamper-free plastic casing by PSA or Beckett and an identifying label is placed at the top of the plastic with information about the card, its grade, and the unique number associated with that grade within that specific company’s grading history.
On the back, you get a QR code that you can scan to see information about the population of that card and its grading. It will show you how many of the same card have been graded and how many cards are graded higher. This is useful when trying to trade or sell a card because it further displays the rarity of that card.
What are the advantages in getting an NBA basketball card PSA graded?
There are plenty of advantages in getting a card PSA graded. I’ll start with a simple one — aesthetic appeal and protection. The tamper-free case helps preserve cards to a major degree. They won’t be indestructible by any means, but they’ll be better preserved and protected than they would be in a plastic top-loader or soft plastic sleeve.
They also stack nicely with other graded cards, so if you have a bunch they’re fairly easy to keep together and organize them however you like.
From a selling standpoint, grading a card helps solidify the inherent rarity in your card. If you get a card numbered to 250, you already know it is one of only 250 out there in circulation. If you get it graded, it may be one of 200 graded cards. If it’s graded at a 10, it may be only one of 100 cards graded as a 10.
A raw card numbered to 250 is going to sell for far less than a graded 10 card numbered to 250 for this very reason. Similarly, and this should be made clear, 10 mints are uncommon. That’s not to say your card isn’t a 10, but when you send in a card for grading there is no promise that it will be graded at a 10.
For this reason, the valuation difference between a card graded at a 9 and a card graded at a 10 is stark. In many cases, a graded 10 card can bring in substantially more value than a graded 9 card. I’ve seen it double up the value of PSA-9 in some cases.
What are the risks in getting an NBA basketball card PSA graded?
There are plenty of risks in getting a card PSA graded that collectors should be aware of. As we discussed already, there’s a chance getting a card PSA graded will increase the value of the card, but it could also decrease the value of the card. If you are trying to turn a profit, this is a major pain point of the grading process.
For instance, if you have a raw card that you send in to get graded, it’s probably going to cost anywhere from $20 (if you submit via a group submission) to $50 (solo) to send it in and get it graded. That’s often without any shipping cost or card insurance, and this is the slowest grade speed. If you want your card back ASAP, you’ll be looking at much higher costs.
So, if you paid, let’s say $50 for a card and wanted to send it in to get it graded, you could be looking at a total cost on that card of $100 or more. If you’re unable to sell the card for $100 or more (certainly not a guarantee, depending on the card) you will be losing money on the entire process.
Finally, there are some cases where you might be expecting your card to grade at a 9 or 10 and it comes in at an 8 or lower. 8s do not sell very well, generally speaking (it always depends on the specifics of the card). At that point, you’ve spent a lot of money to potentially bring in less money on the sale or trade. A buyer might have been willing to buy a raw card at a higher price on the assumption that it might grade higher.
Finally, shipping. Even if you prepare your card just right for getting PSA graded, who knows what happens in the shipping process. Your package will go through many hands and facilities before it gets to your grading service. If you prepare your package well this shouldn’t be a major issue, but it is still worth considering.
On top of these risks, there is the legwork and time spent waiting for the card to come back. You could be without your card for several months. If you want to make a quick sale or are impatient for any other reason, grading is often not the move unless you want to pay extra for speed.
How much does it cost to get a card PSA graded?
This is a complicated question that has a variety of answers.
The general baseline is that even if you do a group submission (sending your card in with a group of other people’s cards) it will be at least $20 for the whole thing. PSA lists some approved vendors for group submitters on their site to go through and make sure you’re sending your card to a trusted source.
If you go to PSA directly, it will depend on what sort of card you are sending in, how many cards you are sending at a time and your desired turnaround time. It’s often going to be at least $50, but PSA’s prices may change. Consult their website for specifics.
How do I know if my card will be a PSA 10?
A PSA 10 card has perfect centering and pristine corners as well as no blemishes like smudges, scratches, or printing errors. It’s hard to get a 10. It means not only were there zero errors in the manufacturing process but that the card was probably found in the middle of a pack (more protected) and hardly touched at all once the pack was ripped.
The only way to know for certain if your card is a 10 is to send it in and try, but evaluating your card before you send is important. We have another article detailing that whole process here.
Should I get my basketball card PSA graded?
As we’ve detailed here, there are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not to send your card in to get PSA graded. I would say these are the scenarios in which it’s worth getting a card graded:
- Your card is numbered and in very good condition. In this case, this will vastly increase the value of your card, assuming it grades as a 9 or higher. Inspect all elements of the card and prepare it for shipping with care. This YouTube video is a must-watch for anyone looking to send in a card.
- Your card is a premium hobby product and in very good condition. Ideally, these should probably mainly be rookie cards. You may want to check secondhand sites like eBay and see what graded versions of the same card have sold for to get a better feel for the market.
- This is a card you personally treasure and don’t plan on selling or trading. This won’t be a money play, but maybe there’s a card you love and just want it preserved in a case for display. Nothing wrong with that, that’s the joy of collecting! While it’ll cost some money to get it done and almost certainly won’t increase the cards value, many collectors might go this route for some of their personal favorites. Instead, you might also consider a halfway-permanent case like a magnetic hard plastic. It’s less expensive and preserves the card nearly as well. You can always get it graded later, too!
- It is to complete a collection of other graded cards. If you have a ton of a certain rookie and most are graded because they were great cards, but this one is a less rare/base version, maybe you might consider getting it graded to make the set uniform. I wouldn’t, personally, but some might.
If you are lucky enough to pull a 1-of-1 or 1-of-2 there is often little value in getting that sort of card graded. At that point, the card is already so rare that the cost of grading it won’t increase its value at all. A magnetic hard plastic case is better for these situations.
At the end of the day, deciding whether or not to submit your card for grading is up to you!