Landon Bailey of Bozeman was doing just fine for 10 years as a tax accountant by day, and a sports card trader by night. He explained, “I remember in 2000, so I would have been 11 or 12, we opened a pack at a local card shop and we pulled this no-name quarterback from Michigan, and it turned out to be Tom Brady, so that one turned out to be a pretty good card to hang on to.”
Bailey carried the hobby into adulthood and started selling some of his collection when the industry took off a few years ago. He would often use Pre-War Card Collectors (PWCC), the largest online third-party seller in the world.
“We’re eBay’s largest seller in all categories,” he said.
So when PWCC offered him a job late last year, tax accounting stood no chance. “I get to live the 8-year-old’s dream and do it all day, every day,” Bailey said.
But never in his wildest dreams could Bailey have imagined the job would lead him to this. News broke Monday of a LeBron James rookie card setting the world record for the most expensive basketball card ever sold. The $5.2 million ties the record for a card of any sport - and Bailey was right in the middle of it.
Record $5.2MM @KingJames card sets the record for the highest price for a basketball card. Ever. pic.twitter.com/y5O4vHKzDu— PWCC (@PWCCmarketplace) April 26, 2021
“We’d been talking for months on the deal, and so he just felt more comfortable if I would come get it to do the wire,” Bailey said. Was the briefcase handcuffed to his wrist? And did he have to have some kind of a secret code?
“The owner of the card and I drove there together, and he had it in a little box. We took the Uber executive straight there, and then we didn’t have it in our possession anymore, which was nice. But no, he just had it in his backpack and nobody knew.”
The sale is a microcosm of one of the country’s hottest new investment industries - fueled by thousands of former card-collecting kids just like Landon with expendable pandemic income.
“I think COVID definitely played into it. People can’t go to events right now, and they want to stay connected somehow, so I think cards was the easiest and most obvious choice to staying involved,” Bailey said.
For many, that means their hobby is now worth exponentially more. “As these assets continue to go up, it’s going to bring more and more investment-type people into the hobby,” he said.
But there’s also a downside. Prices have gone so high that industry insiders are worried about pricing people out.
“The thing that makes it tough is kids. We used to have $3,4,5 packs, and now it’s $20 per pack,” said Kris Brester, owner of KAB Sports Cards & Collectables in Billings.
“Today I went to Target and I was number 20 in line to buy a pack. So something’s gonna have to change in order for kids to be more involved. I don’t know what the answer is on that, but that does worry me a little bit,” Bailey said.
But from what Bailey has seen firsthand, that’s not happening anytime soon. “Look at alternative investments everywhere - we see Bitcoin skyrocket, and what is it? It’s not tangible, it’s not anything you can hold," Bailey said. "And I think for a lot of people, these are sweet pieces of art, and we’ve seen what art has done historically. I think we’re still getting started. I think there’s a ton of room to grow.”
As any sports fan will tell you - records are made to be broken.