Off-Center Gems: A Closer Look at the 1980s Fleer Basketball Sticker Sets

A few weeks ago, I highlighted the 1971-72 Topps Basketball Stickers as a high-grade collector’s nightmare. So I thought I’d follow up with a discussion about the basketball card sticker sets that Fleer included as part of the first modern-era basketball sets. Like the ’71 Topps stickers, the 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1989 Fleer basketball stickers are also condition-sensitive! I’ll give a quick overview of each of the four 1980s Fleer sticker sets, compare the designs, talk about population counts with an emphasis on Michael Jordan’s cards, and then share a few key sales from each set.

1986-87 Fleer Basketball Stickers

1986 Fleer Sticker – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

The 1986-87 Fleer basketball stickers were issued as inserts in packs; each pack had a single sticker. Eleven different stickers were made, and most of the players have been inducted into the NBA’s Hall-of-Fame. From a pack sequencing perspective, a legitimate unsearched wax box will have three complete sticker sets plus three additional stickers. The stickers are always randomly paired with 12 cards but follow a consistent insertion rate and can be seen through the back of the pack.

The front of each standard card-sized sticker shows an action photo, and the red, white, and blue backs have biographies about the player’s career. I like that Fleer put information on the back of the stickers, despite intending for collectors to peel them.

1986-87 Fleer Basketball Stickers Checklist

  • 1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 
  • 2 Larry Bird
  • 3 Adrian Dantley
  • 4 Alex English
  • 5 Julius Erving
  • 6 Patrick Ewing
  • 7 Magic Johnson
  • 8 Michael Jordan
  • 9 Akeem Olajuwon
  • 10 Isiah Thomas
  • 11 Dominique Wilkins

1986-87 Fleer Basketball Stickers Population

The stickers are notorious for poor centering and are tough to find without qualifiers. PSA has graded over 61k 1986-87 Fleer basketball stickers; almost 12k have qualifiers. The most common PSA grade is an 8. Michael Jordan has the most graded sticker, pushing 19k examples, though they are all printed in equal numbers. For whatever reason, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the fewest PSA 10s in the Pop Report.

There are just five sets on PSA’s Registry with all 10s.

1986-87 Fleer Basketball Stickers Sales

1986 Fleer Sticker – Michael Jordan

With graded populations that high, finding 1986-87 Fleer basketball stickers for sale isn’t hard, but finding nice affordable ones is.

In late 2022, PSA 10 Jordan Stickers were sold for $39,600 (October 2022), $54k (November 2022), and $42k (November 2022) at different Goldin Auctions. However, during the hobby spike in early 2021, they sold for over $200k! Look at this action prices realized chart for Jordan’s PSA 10 graded 1986-87 Fleer basketball sticker.

1986 Fleer Michael Jordan PSA 10 Sticker – Auction Prices Realized

These days, PSA 9 Jordans sell for just under $4k, 8s sell for around $1200, and 7s go for around $725, depending on their eye appeal.

One of the coolest items I’ve seen is this uncut proof sheet of 121 stickers that Robert Edward Auctions sold for $63k in the summer of 2020. The 40.5″ x 28.5″ sheet represents element complete sets. 

1986 Fleer Stickers Uncut Proof Sheet – Front
1986 Fleer Stickers Uncut Proof Sheet – Reverse

High-grade sets are pricey because it’s challenging to find centered examples. During the hobby boom, REA also sold an ultra-high grade set of stickers, with nine graded Gem Mint 10 and two as 9s (Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan) for $56,400 in December 2021. 

REA’s 1986 Fleer High-Grade Set – Image 1
REA’s 1986 Fleer High-Grade Set – Image 2

A year earlier, they sold a complete PSA 9 graded set, in May 2020, for $6151. And just the other day, on August 14th, 2023, REA sold a PSA 9 graded set for $8700.

Given that forgeries seem to encircle a lot of Jordan items in the hobby, I wouldn’t recommend grabbing raw sets for peace of mind, but raw mid to upper-grade lots of 10/11 without MJ can be found for a few hundred dollars. Also, with patience, you can probably build a mid-grade SGC set for around $1k, as this complete SGC set sold for $999 in May 2023.

1986 Fleer Sticker Set – SGC-Graded

1987-88 Fleer Basketball Stickers

1987 Fleer Sticker – Magic Johnson

Fleer’s 11-card 1987-88 basketball sticker set was again inserted one per pack. The stickers are attached to a pretty heavy stock and show an action shot on the front, along with a sort of American Flag design with stars and red and white stripes on either side of the photo. Unfortunately, this design was more prone to chipping. The backs are primarily white and blue, with a bit of red text, and again feature player bios.

There’s one uncorrected error with Hakeem’s name being misspelled as Akeem.

1987-88 Fleer Basketball Stickers Checklist

  • 1 Magic Johnson
  • 2 Michael Jordan
  • 3 Hakeem Olajuwon
  • 4 Larry Bird
  • 5 Kevin McHale
  • 6 Charles Barkley
  • 7 Dominique Wilkins
  • 8 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • 9 Mark Aguirre
  • 10 Chuck Person
  • 11 Alex English

1987-88 Fleer Basketball Stickers Population

I’ve shared on the blog before that the 1987-88 Fleer cards (and stickers) were printed in far lower numbers since the 1986 set was a bit of a dud upon release, so that, along with chipping centering and miscuts, makes the cards pretty tough to find in ultra high-grades. PSA has graded over 25k 1987-88 Fleer basketball stickers, but only 258 have qualifiers, so they either fixed their printed issues or fewer low-grade examples have been submitted by collectors. Again, Jordan is the most graded sticker pushing 10k examples. Magic Johnson has the fewest PSA 10s with four, but Alex English only has five.

There are just three sets on PSA’s Registry with all 10s compared with five in 1986.

1987-88 Fleer Basketball Stickers Sales

1987 Fleer Sticker – Michael Jordan

The last sale in PSA’s APR for a PSA 10 Michael Jordan 1987-88 Fleer Sticker was for $27k in April 2022 by Goldin. PWCC sold a 10 for $46k in April 2021.

These days PSA 9 Jordan stickers sell for around $1k, and 8s go for just over $200.

PWCC sold a complete PSA-9 graded set in October 2019 for $605.

1987 Fleer Sticker Set – Image 1
1987 Fleer Sticker Set – Image 2

And Robert Edward Auctions sold a PSA 9 graded set of 11 stickers for $2040 on August 14th, 2023.

Raw sets have sold for between $200 and $450 lately.

1987 Fleer Sticker Set

1988-89 Fleer Basketball Stickers

1988 Fleer Sticker – Patrick Ewing

For the third year in a row, Fleer included an 11-piece sticker set along with the base cards, again inserted at a rate of one per pack. The stickers were again placed on pretty heavy white cardboard and included a color photo of the player on the front. The border has a few colors and includes the words “Fleer Basketball Super Star Sticker” above the picture and the player’s name, team, and position below it. The backs are blue, red, and white, with a player biography written in blue ink on a pink background. 

1988-89 Fleer Basketball Stickers Checklist

  • 1 Mark Aguirre 
  • 2 Larry Bird
  • 3 Clyde Drexler 
  • 4 Alex English
  • 5 Patrick Ewing 
  • 6 Magic Johnson 
  • 7 Michael Jordan 
  • 8 Karl Malone
  • 9 Kevin McHale
  • 10 Isiah Thomas
  • 11 Dominique Wilkins

1988-89 Fleer Basketball Stickers Population

Fleer still hadn’t mastered quality control on their third try, with centering being the major flaw. PSA has graded just over 18k 1988-89 Fleer basketball stickers, with over 3500 including a qualifier. Jordan has the most samples, over half, with 10k encapsulated stickers. Larry Bird has the fewest PSA 10s, with just a single example in the Pop Report.

Given the Larry Bird card, there’s just a single set on the registry with all 10s, compared with three in 1987 and five in 1986.

1988-89 Fleer Basketball Stickers Sales

1988 Fleer Sticker – Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan’s Gem Min 10 stickers are pricey. Goldin sold one in June 2022 for $18,600, which is way off the all-time high of 75k in January 2021.

1988 Fleer Michael Jordan PSA 10 Sticker – Auction Prices Realized

These days PSA 9 Jordan stickers from the 1988-89 Fleer set sell for closer to $2k, and 8s are usually priced in the mid to upper $200s.

These cards weren’t always as popular as they are today. PWCC sold a complete mid-grade(ish) PSA set for just $94 in February 2018.

1988 Fleer Sticker Set – PWCC Image 1
1988 Fleer Sticker Set – PWCC Image 2

However, for comparison, that same year, Goldin sold a set that was at the time tired for #3 (all 9s) on the PSA Set Registry for $1473 in October 2018.

1988 Fleer Sticker Set – Goldin Image 1
1988 Fleer Sticker Set – Goldin Image 2

Raw stickers are affordable; this set sold for $31 in June 2021.

1988 Fleer Sticker Set – Image 1
1988 Fleer Sticker Set – Image 2

A PSA 9 graded set, #4 on the PSA Set Registry, sold for $4320 on August 14th, 2023, at Robert Edward Auctions.

1989-90 Fleer Basketball Stickers

1989 Fleer Sticker – Charles Barkley

Once again, Fleer produced an 11-sticker set that they included one of in each pack in 1989. The All-Stars stickers continued a tradition of highlighting key players with an action shot surrounded by a blue and purple star design. The front’s theme carried over to the back of the card, which featured player bios.

1989-90 Fleer Basketball Stickers Checklist 

  • 1 Karl Malone
  • 2 Akeem Olajuwon 
  • 3 Michael Jordan
  • 4 Charles Barkley 
  • 5 Magic Johnson
  • 6 Isiah Thomas
  • 7 Patrick Ewing
  • 8 Dale Ellis
  • 9 Chris Mullin
  • 10 Larry Bird
  • 11 Tom Chambers

1989-90 Fleer Basketball Stickers Population

For the fourth year in a row, Fleer struggled with centering issues in production, making the set really hard to obtain in ultra-high grades. Of the nearly 23k examples PSA has graded, around 3k have qualifiers. That 23k includes over 14k Michael Jordan Stickers. The toughest PSA 10 belongs to Charles Barkley.

Nine collectors have complete sets on the registry with all 10s compared to a single 1988 set, three 1987 sets, and five 1986 sets.

1989-90 Fleer Basketball Stickers Sales

1989 Fleer Sticker – Michael Jordan

Probstein123 sold a PSA 10 Jordan sticker in October 2022 for $3161, off from a peak of $4600 in February 2021. 

Today, PSA 9 Jordan stickers sell for between $150 and $200, while 8s sell for grading fees (around $20). 

The 1980s Fleer basketball sticker sets weren’t that popular a few years ago, as PWCC sold a complete PSA 9 graded set for just $105 back in February 2017. 

1989 Fleer Sticker Set – Image 1
1989 Fleer Sticker Set – Image 2

Raw sets are also incredibly affordable, as this one sold for under $17 in June 2023.

1989 Fleer Sticker Set

1980s Fleer Basketball Sticker Sets Wrap Up

While these four sticker sets were the first of the modern basketball era, they weren’t Fleer’s first basketball stickers, they had a Cloth Patch Team set in 1974 and NBA Team Stickers sets from 1976 through 1981. Stay tuned to the Unopened Archive for detailed photos of all these packs, wrappers, boxes, and cases next month. 

As you read, collectors have sent huge numbers of 1980s Fleer sticker cards in for grading. PSA has graded over 125k 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1989 cards. However, only 18 complete PSA 10 sets exist across the entire run, making them some of the toughest “modern” cards for ultra-high-end collectors to track down.

I already shared links to the 1971-72 Topps Basketball Stickers, 1986 Fleer Basketball Pack Sequencing, and 1986/1987 Fleer Basketball Print Run articles, but if you’re looking for more related reading, be sure to check out:

Happy collecting!

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