When you ask a collector to name a Larry Bird card, odds are they will either mention a 1980 Topps or his 1986 Fleer card, since they’re two of the most expensive. But collectors who tackle multiple basketball sets will tell you what a tough find a nice 1987 Fleer #11 Larry Bird is.
It’s widely accepted that 1987 Fleer was printed in significantly lower quantities than its 1986 Fleer predecessor, and I’ll discuss that topic in more detail in another article. So that already limits the population of Larry’s card in what is a pretty popular set. Then when you inspect the population report, you will find that the card is super tough to find in high-grade condition.
Of 1582 graded (without + or qualifiers), there are only 32 10s, 273 9s, and 763 8s. Only 2% of Bird’s 1987 Fleer cards are Gem Mt 10s. When you compare that to other cards in the set with over 1k regular grades, you can see that only Barkley has a similarly difficult hit rate with PSA 10s. Though the Bird is tougher when you combine PSA 9 and 10 populations.
In 1987 Fleer, 23/1330 Barkley’s have graded PSA 10, 40/1003 Ewing’s, 53/1395 Johnson’s, 204/12005 Jordan’s, 126/1261 Malone’s, and 35/1423 Olajuwon cards.
The Larry Bird is such a tough grade because so many copies have poor centering and registry issues. But why is that? The common belief is that the set was printed in 132-card sheets, with 12 rows of 11 cards across. That means that Bird, card #11, was the last card in the top row (upper right corner) which means it was susceptible to cutting problems. Despite my reach on Twitter and throughout the hobby, I haven’t found a photo of an uncut sheet, but you can see a pair of miscut Bird cards below.
Even the first of the three PSA 10 Birds pictured below looks surprisingly off-center for a perfect 10 grade.
With the surge and dip of the basketball card market, it’s a bit tough to say what these high-grade 1987 Fleer Birds are valued at now. The last PSA 10 sold for $2880 in May, but they were over $5k in February (up to $7500). Those 10s were between $1000 and $1500 between August and November 2020 and about $1200 in May 2020. PSA 9s are now just under $400 and were around $140 in May 2020. The last PSA 8s sold for an average of $80, and they were about $40 in May 2020.
Larry Bird is one of the NBA’s all-time greats who achieved every career highlight or award the league has. His popularity continues to this day, and that can be seen in the demand for his cards. And while you can’t go wrong adding a 1980 Topps or 1986 Fleer Bird card to your collection, his 1987 Fleer card might be a bit more challenging for the condition-focused collector.