Are Rumors True That LeBron James Has Ditched Upper Deck For Fanatics?

August 24, 2023

There has been a great deal of buzz around the possibility that LeBron James is no longer under an exclusive contract with Upper Deck.

Many in the hobby have speculated that the player is now under an exclusive contract with Fanatics. Is it true LeBron James ditched Upper Deck For Fanatics, and what are these rumors based on?

In a recent IG live session, Goldin was asked, “Do you think Fanatics could buy the rights for LeBron James and Michael Jordan off Upper Deck?”

He answered, “If you have not seen the news, the deal with Upper Deck expired, and he already has a deal with Fanatics. So, they put out a Topps Now. I’m disappointed that they did this the first time they chose to put in a LeBron card.”

That statement has raised some eyebrows since only Mr. Ken Goldin is more connected in this industry. But still, that does not count as confirmation. In addition, we reached out to Fanatics, and they have yet to comment. Still, there are other indications that this may be true.

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Is there any more evidence that LeBron James is with Fanatics?

Some sharp-eyed collectors noticed that LeBron James was missing from the list of athletes with exclusive contracts on the Upper Deck website a few months ago.

In late June, the folks at Blowout Forums started a thread about this. But, of course, it was all speculation. The first post in it asked: “With LeBron removed from Upper Deck’s “Exclusive Athletes” list, are we walking into a LeBron announcement from Fanatics here soon? Still no exclusive mention on Wembanyama despite all of the evidence thus far; it looks like Fanatics is preparing a massive bombshell if able to swing both Wemby and LeBron.”

However, it was later returned to the list at some point. As of August 23, 2023, James shows up on the general list. However, LeBron is no longer one of the thumbnails you can click on to get a complete list of their merchandise.

This may be significant. You can still buy Anthony Davis merchandise for ridiculously high prices. But the LeBron James stuff is nowhere to be found. And, of course, Ben Simmons is still there. I am sure there is a massive market for that. And as one commentator on Blowout Forums noted, “Yeah, I think that is another big indicator that they lost him. Not like they’d still feature Simmons and Byfield but bump LeBron.”

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LeBron autographs coming BACK? #basketballcards #LeBron #shorts #nba #nbanews

More signs that Lebron James is no longer with Upper Deck

The rift may have been going on since late 2022. Because on LeBron’s birthday (December 30th for those who celebrate), Upper Deck did not mark the birthday with a Tweet as usual. This year, instead of commemorating Tiger Woods and LeBron’s big day together (as they have for years), Upper Deck only marked the golfers’ birthday.

In addition, the recent release of Goodwin Champions only had one LeBron James auto in the checklist. And it was a 2019 card that had yet to be used then. Then, adding fuel to the fire, “The King’s” cards were completely missing from the

On August 21st, a Topps Now card with the image of LeBron James appeared on the Topps website. The card featured LeBron James on one side and Los Angeles Dodgers superstar outfielder Mookie Betts on the other. The caption on the card reads: “Salute to greatness: LA legends. salute after power display in Dodgers Stadium.”

At that time, much speculation began to appear that James was headed away from Upper Deck and into the arms of Fanatics.

Mario Alejandro of Beisbol Card Blog Tweeted (or whatever Tweets are called now): Yesterday, Topps produced a ToppsNow trading card featuring Lebron, their first in 14 years. With Upper Deck’s struggles and Fanatics’ takeover, is the writing on the wall for Lebron and Upper Deck? How many collectors believe that Fanatics/ Topps will announce an exclusive deal to produce Lebron James sports cards before the end of 2023?”

Upper Deck’s LeBron James deal

Upper Deck had the foresight to get James to sign a deal as early as possible. In 2002, everyone in the sports world was already familiar with LeBron James, considered the most exciting draft pick in decades. The Carlsbad, California-based company made a play for the young star in May 2002, a month before the 2002 NBA Draft was held on June 26 at Madison Square Garden.

James was overjoyed. He said, “Every kid who plays sports aspires to be the best and be part of a winning team. Today’s deal with The Upper Deck Company not only means that I’ve joined a team that is the leader in the collectibles industry but also allows me to be part of a team of world-class athletes representing their products.”

Topps reportedly put up quite a fight for the player. But in 2002, Upper Deck had a better reputation and deeper pockets. They had also enjoyed the advantages of their exclusive contract with Michael Jordan (more on that below) and wanted a guy they believed would be the next MJ. It turned out to be an excellent investment and a strong bet.

James’ agent at the time, Aaron Goodwin, noted that the agreement was temporary. He said, “We’re looking forward to being good business partners over the next few years. When terms of this contract are over, LeBron will still be in his early 20s.” But that contract was renewed on several occasions.

The terms initially allowed Upper Deck to exclusively use LeBron’s autograph and memorabilia cards (patch autos and the like). But over the years, the terms of the agreement shifted, and Panini was given some of those rights. That is how we ended up with legendary cards such as the LeBron James triple Logoman.

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The rise and fall of Upper Deck basketball cards

1990, Upper Deck became the first company to have licenses in all four big sports since Topps in 1980. It was a show of tremendous power after the release of the revolutionary 1989 Upper Deck Baseball set. 1991 Upper Deck released its first basketball set, a significant hit.

Upper Deck lost the rights to NBA cards in 2009 when Panini won exclusive rights to basketball cards. The company continued to release the occasional basketball card set. For example, the 2011 and 2013 SP Collection.

Upper Deck tried to get around this by using any other uniform they could. Be it high school, college, European, or international teams, or just blocking out the jersey identifiers. But as is usually the case, these unlicensed cards could have done better than their previous licensed products.

So, eventually, Upper Deck phased out these releases. You can still find Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and other basketball players in the occasional basketball release for the company. For example, their Goodwin Champions line.

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Upper Deck’s exclusive deal with Michael Jordan

One of the smartest moves Upper Deck ever made was getting an exclusive autograph contract with Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player in history. The license also allowed them to release several complete sets. In 1994, Upper Deck released the MJ Rare Air collection, covering every aspect of Jordan’s game and private life. They released nine exclusive sets during the decade, and many did well.

Over the years, Upper Deck expanded that deal to include exclusive signed jerseys, basketballs, and photos. The Carlsbad headquartered company limits the number of MJ autos to charge an exceptionally high premium on these items. Charging thousands for jerseys and balls and hundreds for photos.

The amounts involved have never been published. But Jordan must have benefited handsomely from this deal because it has been continuously renewed up to the present day. In 2015, Upper Deck announced an extension of the agreement.

It stated, “We have worked diligently to bring the highest quality, most innovative Jordan memorabilia to collectors, and we will continue to maintain the same level of service and authenticity that fans and collectors have come to expect from Upper Deck.”

Of course, now everyone is wondering. Will Michael Jordan be next? That would be such a severe blow to Upper Deck and its operations that it might be debilitating. But as we have seen from the Panini case, Fanatics may consider that an advantage.

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Why Lebron moving to Fanatics matters

Upper Deck is very proud of its extensive list of athletes with exclusive contracts. It plays a vital role in their overall business model. Here is the complete list as it currently stands.


Michael Jordan

LeBron James (still appearing on their list)

  • Stephen Curry
  • Darius Garland
  • Ben Simmons
  • Anthony Davis
  • Allen Iverson
  • Larry Bird
  • Shaquille O’Neal
  • Magic Johnson
  • Kevin Love
  • Dwyane Wade
  • Alonzo Mourning
  • Glen Rice
  • Kemba Walker
  • Jerry West
  • Timofey Mozgov
  • Zydrunas Ilgauskas


  • Wayne Gretzky
  • Connor McDavid
  • Patrick Roy
  • Nick Suzuki
  • Shane Wright
  • Alexis Lafrenière
  • Quinton Byfield
  • Matt Savoie
  • Bobby Orr
  • Grant Fuhr


  • Tom Brady
  • Marcus Mariota
  • Jameis Winston
  • Brett Favre
  • John Elway
  • Joe Montana


  • Tiger Woods
  • Justin Thomas
  • Rory McIlroy
  • Jack Nicklaus
  • Gary Player


  • CM Punk
  • Chris Jericho
  • Kenny Omega
  • Maxwell Jacob Friedman

If Fanatics starts picking away at this list and taking away the most prominent names, it will take away one of Upper Deck’s most important revenue streams. Then, there is something else to wonder about.

Are Fanatics just interested in taking on LeBron James, or is this part of a predatory attempt to drive Upper Deck out of business? It may be merely the former. But considering how aggressive Fanatics have been with Panini, we wouldn’t be surprised if they are taking similar steps with Upper Deck.

What LeBron James ditching Upper Deck for Fanatics means for LeBron James collectibles

The Upper Deck model for autographs and memorabilia has been simple. Limit the supply and drip the items strategically. Then, sell them for extremely high prices. For example, if you want to get an autographed Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls jersey, it will cost you between $15,000 and $30,000. LeBron James jerseys are currently cheaper and go on the Upper Deck website for around $14,000.

The prices are incredibly high because the items are scarce. Upper Deck keeps it that way. Fanatics has generally embraced a policy of broader availability for its products and autographs.

The Fanatics roster is also far more extensive than the Upper Deck one, which makes sense because they have far more money. And because they have more to work with, they pump out more memorabilia. You can see that from the comparative prices. While a LeBron James autographed jersey costs $14,000, you can get a Tom Brady jersey for $2,400. It’s still costly, but not in the same stratosphere.

Check out prices for Lebron James signed jerseys on eBay

That is good news for those who want to buy LeBron James memorabilia. It will be far more affordable very soon. But that is terrible news for anyone invested in LeBron James memorabilia.

They may find it worth far less in a couple of months than now. Therefore, if you have LeBron jerseys, you may want to sell them soon. Also, autographed copies of his early Topps cards are a very likely possibility. So, if you have anything like that, you may want to sell that too.

Here is the list of athletes signed exclusively by the company. You can check their prices, which are lower across the board than their Upper Deck equivalents:

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  • Lonzo Ball
  • Paolo Banchero 
  • Vince Carter
  • Cade Cunningham
  • Anthony Edwards
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
  • Jalen Green
  • Brandon Ingram
  • Jonathan Kuminga
  • Zach LaVine
  • Tyrese Maxey
  • Donovan Mitchell
  • Evan Mobley
  • Jamal Murray
  • Chris Paul
  • Paul Pierce
  • Jalen Suggs
  • Jayson Tatum
  • Klay Thompson
  • Dwyane Wade
  • Chris Webber
  • Zion Williamson


  • Pete Alonso
  • Tim Anderson
  • Nolan Arenado
  • Johnny Bench
  • Mookie Betts
  • Alec Bohm
  • Kris Bryant
  • Gerrit Cole
  • Willson Contreras 
  • Jake Cronenworth
  • Jasson Dominguez
  • Dennis Eckersley
  • Carlton Fisk
  • Jack Flaherty
  • Max Fried
  • Lucas Giolito
  • Paul Goldschmidt
  • Hunter Greene
  • Riley Greene
  • Bryce Harper
  • Michael Harris II
  • Aaron Hicks
  • Jackson Holliday
  • Chipper Jones
  • Aaron Judge
  • Gavin Lux
  • Dustin May
  • Jeff McNeil
  • Brandon Nimmo 
  • Aaron Nola
  • Shohei Ohtani
  • Matt Olson
  • Andy Pettitte
  • Mike Piazza
  • Cal Raleigh 
  • J.T. Realmuto
  • Jim Rice
  • Cal Ripken Jr.
  • Anthony Rizzo
  • Grayson Rodriguez
  • Julio Rodriguez
  • Adley Rutschman
  • CC Sabathia
  • Max Scherzer
  • Corey Seager
  • Luis Severino
  • Ozzie Smith
  • Will Smith
  • George Springer
  • Bryson Stott
  • Dansby Swanson
  • Spencer Torkelson
  • Jose Trevino
  • Zac Veen
  • Anthony Volpe
  • Jordan Walker 
  • Jett Williams 
  • Zack Wheeler
  • Mike Yastrzemski 
  • Will Anderson Jr
  • Tom Brady
  • Joe Burrow
  • James Conner
  • Matt Corral
  • Kirk Cousins
  • Nick Foles
  • Jahmyr Gibbs
  • Jared Goff
  • Dallas Goedert
  • Breece Hall
  • Najee Harris
  • Justin Herbert
  • Daniel Jones
  • Dalton Kincaid
  • Cooper Kupp
  • CeeDee Lamb
  • Trevor Lawrence
  • Will Levis
  • Marshawn Lynch
  • Archie Manning
  • Eli Manning
  • Peyton Manning
  • Joe Montana
  • Evan McPherson
  • Luke Musgrave
  • Micah Parsons
  • Brock Purdy 
  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Jerry Rice
  • Anthony Richardson
  • Ben Roethlisberger
  • Deebo Samuel
  • Trey Sermon
  • Noah Sewell
  • Devonta Smith
  • Jaxon Smith-Njigba
  • Matthew Stafford
  • C.J. Stroud
  • Tua Tagovailoa
  • Jonathan Taylor
  • Tristan Wirfs 
  • Jaylen Waddle
  • Darren Waller
  • Garrett Wilson
  • Russell Wilson
  • Charles Woodson
  • Bryce Young
  • Chase Young


  • Mathew Barzal
  • Matty Beniers 
  • Jordan Binnington
  • Teddy Blueger
  • Brock Boeser
  • Matthew Boldy
  • Robert Bortuzzo
  • Brent Burns
  • Cole Caufield
  • Sebastian Cossa 
  • Kirby Dach
  • Jake DeBrusk
  • Ryan Donato
  • Leon Draisaitl
  • Chris Driedger
  • Jordan Eberle 
  • Simon Edvinsson
  • Jack Eichel
  • Patrik Elias
  • Radek Faksa
  • Marc-Andre Fleury
  • Adam Fox
  • Johnny Gaudreau
  • Ryan Getzlaf
  • Mark Giordano 
  • Claude Giroux
  • Yanni Gourde
  • Philipp Grubauer
  • Jake Guentzel
  • Carter Hart
  • Adin Hill
  • Mike Hoffman
  • Bo Horvat
  • Jonathan Huberdeau
  • Jack Hughes
  • Luke Hughes
  • Quinn Hughes
  • Zach Hyman
  • Seth Jones
  • Kaapo Kakko
  • William Karlsson
  • Travis Konecny
  • Patrik Laine
  • Gabriel Landeskog
  • Henrik Lundqvist
  • Nathan MacKinnon
  • Cale Makar
  • Jonathan Marchessault
  • Patrick Marleau
  • Auston Matthews
  • Charlie McAvoy
  • K’Andre Miller
  • Oliver Moore
  • Matt Murray
  • Brock Nelson
  • Jake Oettinger
  • Alex Ovechkin
  • Max Pacioretty
  • Gabe Perreault
  • David Perron
  • JJ Peterka
  • Elias Pettersson
  • Mikko Rantanen
  • Lucas Raymond
  • Jason Robertson
  • Nick Robertson
  • Marco Rossi
  • Mark Scheifele
  • Daniel Sedin
  • Henrik Sedin
  • Moritz Seider
  • Igor Shesterkin
  • Juraj Slafkovsky
    IIya Sorokin
  • Tim Stutzle
  • Jeremy Swayman
  • Tyler Toffoli
  • Linus Ullmark
  • Trevor Zegras

Final word on rumors LeBron James ditched Upper Deck for Fanatics

There is no conclusive evidence that LeBron is no longer under exclusive contract with Upper Deck. And even less evidence that he is under contract with Fanatics. Neither of the companies involved have confirmed this.

But the circumstantial evidence is quite compelling. I think it’s safe to say that “The King” is no longer under contract for Upper Deck or soon won’t be. Ken Goldin reported that LeBron is already under contract for Fanatics. But that seems less certain. However, it is easy to see why Fanatics would want the highest-scoring NBA player of all time under warranty.

This is more significant than a company signing a great athlete if the rumors are true. It could mark the beginning of a fanatic assault on Upper Deck. After all, it appears that the apparel giant has gotten Panini on its knees, and now the NFLPA has terminated its contract with Panini. So, it makes sense if Upper Deck is their next target.

Meanwhile, LeBron collectors will be watching closely. The price of his memorabilia is very high. But if more of his autographs are out there, their relative value will decrease. And since Upper Deck kept the lid on the numbers, they will be concerned about these developments.

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