The 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan card is the most recognizable basketball card today. Jordan is beyond a basketball player; he’s become a brand and cultural icon. So between his popularity as an NBA legend, the NBA’s resurgent popularity, the growth of sports cards as alternative investment vehicles, and macroeconomic factors, this card has exploded in price lately. In this article, I’ll take a bit of a closer look at this iconic Fleer basketball card.
There isn’t a lot that I need to say about Michael Jordan, the player. He was a 6x NBA Champion, 6x NBA Finals MVP, 5x MVP, 14x All-Star, 9x NBA All-defensive First Team, 10x Scoring Champion, 2x Olympic Champion, and fierce competitor who played in a major market. Michael Jordan was, and in many ways still is, the face of basketball internationally, so it’s no surprise his cards are popular too.
The 1986 Fleer set has 132 cards, including the checklist. The 2.5×3.5 inch cards came from wax packs, and each pack had a sticker as well. The design is pretty straightforward, but the set is full of superstar players and is the first “modern” major basketball card release. Besides superstars like MJ, the set includes Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Isiah Thomas, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dominique Wilkins. The set is absolutely loaded. However, the 1986 Fleer cards weren’t at all popular when released. A lot of collectors and dealers remember getting boxes for $5.
Many people consider the 1986 Fleer to be Michael Jordan’s rookie card, but one could just as easily argue that the 1984-85 Star card (which is often forged) coincided with his rookie campaign 1984 is more of a rookie card. But the Fleer is the first major release.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the Fleer Jordan. The card isn’t scarce. PSA has graded >18500 1986 Fleer Jordans. There are over 300 PSA 10s, 2700 PSA 9s, and 7700 PSA 8s. Again, it’s not rare by any means. There are hundreds listed for sale on eBay right now. I don’t want to detail supply/demand economics. I wrote a bit about soaring card prices in an earlier article, and I believe a similar trend exists with basketball cards, just like unopened material.
As far as historical prices, PSA APR gives us great graphical data. Some noise is due to qualifiers’ inclusion with a regular grade (A PSA 8 with an Off-Center qualifier on the same chart as a regular PSA 8). Below are the charts for PSA 4, 7, 8, 9, and 10 sales from the past ~5 years.
Here’s the price summary for each year:
PSA 4s were $600-700 for years, then $2k during the lockdown, with a spike and reversion towards $6k now.
PSA 7s were $1k for years, then $3500, now~$10k.
PSA 8s were $1600, then $6k, now ~$16k.
PSA 9s were $3500, then $13k, now $50k+.
PSA 10s were $18-20k, then $70k, now $600k+.
The grades all follow the same basic pattern. Each sold in range for years, then more than tripled during the lockdown, which started in March 2020 (coincident with the release of The Last Dance documentary on Netflix). The card then tripled again around January 2021, with the 9s and 10s going up even more than 3x. I think with ultra-high-end cards, it’s a bit of an ego thing among the wealthy. They want to show that they have a PSA 10, and while there are >300 PSA 10 Jordans, there are a lot of rich people, a lot of basketball fans, and a lot of collectors, so 300 isn’t really a huge supply. A recent reversion followed that price rise. Some would say it’s indicative of a bubble, but if I knew if it were or weren’t a bubble, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog!
I’m interested in seeing what happens with this card, particularly from a macro-economic sense in the hobby. Still, it’s no coincidence that the economic factors I’ve discussed in the previous article are in play with this card too.
Are you a collector of Jordan cards? Let me know over on Twitter.