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Rumors True: Lebron James Signs Deal With Fanatics

lebron james fanatics

The signs were increasing there, but now it’s official – Lebron James has signed an exclusive deal with Fanatics, leaving Upper Deck where he has been for the last 20 years.

The deal doesn’t change much for Upper Deck in the short term. James has not produced any new autographed cards for them over the last two years. But it is another blow to its reputation.

The exclusive LeBron deal was the most important asset the company had at its disposal, aside from the one with Michael Jordan. The new deal also brings Fanatics a step closer to consolidating their complete dominance of the hobby.

The deal was revealed on Wednesday, January 10th, when it was noted that Lebron will soon appear on a 2023-24 Bowman University Chrome Basketball card with his phenom son, Bronny James. At the time it wasn’t clear if that exciting card indicated a long-lasting partnership or rather was a one-off. However, it is now clear that the dual auto card is part of a long-lasting partnership.

Both players will be appearing in their college uniforms.

Terms of the deal have not yet been discussed.

The deal comes on the heels of Fanatics gobbling up other star athletes such as Victor Wembanyama and CJ Stroud.

What we know about the deal bringing LeBron James to Fanatics

It is a multi-year deal, announced on January 10, 2024. Unconfirmed reports point to at least ten years and a sum of over 5 million dollars per year.

Fanatics Collectibles CEO Mike Mahan said, “Our goal is to push the envelope of where the hobby can go, and we are excited about how our collaboration with one of the best athletes in the world will continue to ignite fan and collector passion.” Meanwhile, LeBron released a statement saying simply, “As someone who appreciates all the moments — big and small — along the journey, I’m excited to share more with my fans through this partnership with Fanatics,”

Meanwhile, Upper Deck stated: “Upper Deck has had the privilege of working closely with LeBron James over the last 20 years, building the LeBron James brand into one of the most valuable collectible brands in the world.” While certainly not a mean statement from the disappointed Upper Deck, it seems a bit presumptuous to say that the card company built the James brand.

As you can see below in this story, the deal has been in the works for a while now. Indeed, Fanatics had a LeBron-narrated ad for Bowman ready to go. Here it is for your viewing pleasure:

YouTube video

The rumors Lebron James was headed to Fanatics amped up in 2023

For months, there had 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 had speculated that the player is now under an exclusive contract with Fanatics.

In an August 2023 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.” Now that the deal had happened, Goldin was pretty excited about it. He said, “They’re [Fanatics] probably going to utilize LeBron in a way not just to sign autographs, but to help promote trading cards as a whole,”

That statement raised some eyebrows since only Mr. Ken Goldin is more connected in this industry. But still, that did not count as confirmation. In addition, we reached out to Fanatics, but they understandably had not commented. We now see all the rumors were true.

Check prices for Lebron James signed jerseys on eBay

Was there more evidence that LeBron James was going to Fanatics?

Some sharp-eyed also collectors noticed that LeBron James was missing from the list of athletes with exclusive contracts on the Upper Deck website in mid-2023.

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. James showed up on the general list. However, LeBron was no longer one of the thumbnails you can click on to get a complete list of their merchandise.

That turned out to be significant. You could still buy Anthony Davis merchandise for ridiculously high prices. But the LeBron James stuff was 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.”

Shop for Lebron James signed jerseys on eBay

YouTube video

More signs that Lebron James was 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.

Shop for Lebron James signed jerseys on eBay

The rise and fall of Upper Deck basketball cards

The deal signed between Fanatics and LeBron James is yet another sign in the continued decline of Upper Deck cards in the basketball space, and more generally. James, along with Michael Jordan, is the one feather remaining in the cap of the Carlsbad, California, based company.

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 did not do 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.

Shop for Upper Deck Lebron James rookie cards on eBay

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.

Check prices for Michael Jordan-signed jerseys on eBay

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.

Basketball

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

Hockey

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

 Football

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

Golf

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

Wrestling

  • 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 does LeBron James leaving for Fanatics mean for Lebron 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 kept 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 could be far more afordable to own a Lebron James jersey soon. But that could also be tough 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:

Shop for Lebron James signed jerseys on eBay

NBA

  • 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

MLB

  • 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

NHL

  • 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

The final word on LeBron James signing with Fanatics

Now that Lebron James and Fanatics have confirmed the deal, that many expected, we have more clarity on the impact of the changes.

Without question, inking the highest NBA score of all time is a big deal for Fanatics and will impact the hobby as a whole.

This is more significant than a company signing a great athlete. It could mark the beginning of Fanatics more aggressively competing with 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.

LeBron collectors will also be watching the market 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.

Shop for Lebron James signed jerseys on eBay

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim is the emeritus editor of Cardlines. He continues to write for several hobby outlets, including this one and Cardbase. He collects primarily vintage baseball and soccer and has a weird obsession with 1971 Topps.

In his spare time, Shaiel is sobbing into his bourbon when the Mets lose and playing Dungeons and Dragons. In a past life, Dr. Ben-Ephraim was a political science professor, journalist, and diplomat. But cards are more fun.
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