Card Chronicles: 1986 Michael Jordan Fleer Basketball Card #57

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Just as it’s not hyperbole to call Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player of all time, the 1986 Michael Jordan Fleer Basketball Card #57 might be the most important single card in the history of the modern hobby (other than the T206 Honus Wagner).

986 Michael Jordan Fleer Basketball Card

The National Basketball Association’s official website actually states: “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.”

In fact, PSA Authentication and Grading Services, the industry’s leading card grading organization, has called the 1986 Jordan Rookie Card “the most recognizable basketball card and the most important modern card from any sport in the entire hobby.”

Without a doubt, it’s the most iconic basketball card in history, and it’s just as relevant today as it was in 1998 when MJ played his final game as a member of the Chicago Bulls.

The ESPN film series “The Last Dance” (notice we didn’t refer to it as a “documentary,” because it’s not an actual documentary when the subject himself has direct editorial control over the project) inspired a massive wave of the strong interest in all things Michael Jordan, and with that, the value of this card skyrocketed.

Earlier this year (2021), two of them, both graded at the highest level possible, PSA 10, sold at auction for $738,000 apiece. Not bad for a card you might have been able to randomly pull from a pack for 50 cents back in the day.

Late last year (2020), one went for north of $200,000 and it was building off a lot of momentum from 2020 which saw this card, considered the Michael Jordan card,” cross the $50,000 and $100,000 barriers.

Yes, the value (because something is only worth whatever you can get somebody to pay for it) increased over 50% in about two months. And the valuation kept growing exponentially because this is basically the card that made basketball cards “a thing”.

 

1986 Fleer Basketball Set

The 1986 Fleer set, known for its iconic red, white, and blue background behind the player images, got the hobby restarted again.

It was produced in mass quantities, so there is nothing rare about the Jordan Fleer card, or any of the other cards in the set.

Much like #57 (the Jordan card) is the mother of all basketball cards, this set is the apex of hoops card sets.

You’ll find other legendary players’ rookie cards in this set, including Charles Barkley (who was actually born just three days after MJ), Karl Malone, Isiah Thomas, and Hakeem Olajuwon (who went two spots ahead of His Airness in the 1984 NBA Draft).

If you were into the NBA in the 1980s and 1990s, and you see the list of cards in this set, you’ll notice that this is truly a who’s who for that era of roundball.

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The rookie cards for most of the members of the “Dream Team,” the 1992 Summer Olympics Team USA squad (the first Olympiad in which NBA players were eligible to participate) are in the ’86 Fleer.

 

1986 Michael Jordan Fleer Card Value

There are a lot of reasons why this specific Jordan card is so expensive, despite his having already played in the league for a couple of years before it was issued.

First, it’s very hard to find a truly mint condition, top-tier, flawless card. The borders are notorious for being particularly susceptible to wear and tear, as well as chipping.

It’s one thing to find an ’86 Fleer Michael Jordan, but it’s quite another thing to find one with four very sharp and distinct corners.

This card was also known for having major issues with centering. This brings us to the experience I had, personally, in buying, owning, and selling this card. I bought one in the midst of the first Chicago Bulls NBA title three-peat, on my 14th birthday. I had scraped enough money together from birthday and Christmas presents to purchase it from a coin and collectible store in Orland Park, a southwest suburb of Chicago.

I paid $350 at a time that Beckett, back then the bible of card collecting, valued it about $500. The store I bought it from was one of two that sold sports cards in that mall. I sold it about a year to a year-and-a-half later to the other card shop in that mall, one with a retro baseball stadium theme. I got about $500 for it.

While that is a very handsome percentage of profit, thinking about this obviously makes me want to cry when I go back and look at how much this card sells for these days on eBay.

On one hand, it kind of feels like the story of the man who sold his computer software operating system to Bill Gates, for $50,000 and Gates then turned around and made that OS into Microsoft Windows.

On the other hand, a profit is a profit, and it’s not a profit until you book it. It’s always easier now, with 20/20 hindsight, and say that I should have held the line instead of selling.

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There was a dot here or there, and perhaps a dust speck or something of the sort which these men would bring up in an attempt to make me feel like my Jordan card was more inadequate than it really was. While centering was a common problem with this card, the design layout is almost universally beloved, and rightly so.

The red, white, and blue background is everything that’s All-American, and it even evokes the old ABA days that slightly predate this card.

The background is enough visual frills for this one, which stands out most on the strength of the photo. It is classic Air Jordan taking flight and entering the final approach to the basket. He’s also sporting the Bulls classic road red that was so iconic of the 1980s.

It’s this whole package that makes a PSA 10 Michael Jordan rookie card so special. The 1986 Fleer #57 is also one of the most counterfeited cards of all time, so finding a legitimate, authentic one in mint condition is basically a holy grail.

1986 fleer michael jordan fake or real

The image above will help when attempting to ID a fake 1986 Michael Jordan Fleer.

 

Other Michael Jordan Card Options

Some consider the 1984 Star Company Michael Jordan XRC #101 to be Jordan’s true RC. Star is a little-known card company that didn’t last long in the hobby, but this card will cost you a few grand if it’s in top condition, and five figures if you can find a PSA 10.

This one comes in an all-red background, matching the photo which conveys Jordan once again in the red Bulls away shirt. There is also a Rookie of the Year (#288) and Team USA 1984 Summer Olympics (#195) variant.

And if you have your heart set on a Jordan Fleer card from the 1986 set, but don’t have the budget for the big one, there is always the Fleerr sticker.

Jordan is #8 out of 11 in the stickers subset that was inserted into Fleer packs. It’s an impressive offering to be sure, but hard to find in top-tier condition and still pricey for the average sports card investor.

 

Michael Jordan is a Pop Culture Icon

But to really give the short answer, to the question, why is the 1986 Michael Jordan Fleer card so special? Because it’s Jordan himself. In basketball, he’s the equivalent of a Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, Red Grange, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, and Cy Young all rolled into one.

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Jordan won six NBA titles, eight scoring titles, five regular-season MVPs, six Finals MVPs, three All-Star Game MVPs, and one Defensive Player of the Year award. His Airness was named to the All-Defensive First Team nine times and the All-Star team 14 times. He scored 32,292 points and averaged 30.1 points per game in his career.

As a life-long Chicagoan, I can tell you that the Bulls were basically not much of anything until he came along. The DePaul Blue Demons men’s basketball team was much more relevant in Chicago when the Bulls drafted Jordan. Today, the Bulls are an international brand, and one of the most valuable sports franchises in the entire world.

Speaking of the word “brand” that’s what Jordan is today, as he’s got his own iconic sportswear line. This in addition to being the principal owner and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets and of 23XI Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series. His net worth is estimated to be about $2.2 billion.

Image is everything when it comes to an individual brand, and Jordan has already shown the ability, across multiple decades, to sustain multiple hits to image, from numerous angles, and still emerge untarnished.

Having worked in Chicago sports media for over two decades, I can tell you that everyone has a “Michael Jordan is not a nice man” story. He’s not a great human being, in real life, and there is no getting around that. But because he wins, none of the dirt ever seems to stick to him.

The Jordan Rules,” a scathing tell-all book by the legendary sportswriter Sam Smith, came out when Jordan was at the peak of his powers, and despite its unflattering depiction, Jordan seemingly didn’t lose any fans. Even The Last Dance itself, Jordan’s pet project, depicts him as a human being who regularly takes competitiveness, in all facets of life, to sociopathic levels.

Anyone who watched the entire series, and a lot of us did because the ratings were sky-high, saw a human being who would take any type of slight, genuine or simply perceived in his own head, no matter how petty, no matter how far back in the past it was, and use it to fuel his ambition.

Jordan really sweated the small things in order to make himself as big as possible. You’ve seen the “…..and I took that personal” memes and gifs. A lot of people saw this behavior pattern in Jordan and deemed it spiteful and immature. The day before this article was started, Scottie Pippen, Jordan’s all-time greatest sidekick, slammed #23 as selfishly calculating and self-centered.

Others simply viewed it as the price of finding success; the ends to justify the means. He might just be one of the most competitive people that has ever walked the face of the Earth. A lot was sacrificed, naturally, to feed his ambition, and whether those sacrifices were just or not, well, the line is subjective and it’s different for everybody. But these are all issues you must realize and consider, if you’re asking yourself will the 1986 Fleer has the potential to become a million-dollar card someday?

 

1986 Michael Jordan Fleer Card Investment Outlook

Will its value keep on rising? It depends on if Jordan the individual brand keeps adding value. The hobby really took off during the covid-19 pandemic.

ESPN moved up the release date of The Last Dance to coincide with it, at a time when there were absolutely no other sports going on, and lockdowns were at their worst.

This perfect storm of events helped drive the Jordan Fleercard value up exponentially almost overnight. It’s going to be very hard to see off-the-charts growth like that again, any time soon.

So while the value of Jordan cards may have decreased from recent highs, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t invest in it.

 

1986 Michael Jordan Fleer Investment Advice

Let the sports card market sort itself out from the mind-blowing five-year run of soaring values.

When we start seeing fewer articles in the news regarding record-breaking sports card sales and fights to break out at Target over baseball card boxes, it will be time to start investing in the iconic 1986 Michael Jordan Fleer RC #57.

 

How much is a 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan worth?

A 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan card is worth $300,000 on average at a PSA 10 grade. If your looking for an estimated value of your MJ basketball card pleased email info@goldcardauctions.com.

What Michael Jordan cards are valuable?

Just abnout every Michael Jordan card is valuable it just a matter of how valuable. Three of his most valuable cards include the 1986 Michael Jordan Fleer RC #57‍, 1997 Michael Jordan Metal Universe Green #23, and the 1997 Michael Jordan Upper Deck Game Jersey.

How much is a 1989 Fleer Michael Jordan card worth?

A 1989 Fleer Michael Jordan card is worth $1000 to $1500 as a PSA 10 grade.


Paul M. Banks has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated, and the  Chicago Tribune.

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