GRAIL STATUS

To a collector, possessing an athlete’s rookie trading card — even if purchased at a later date — is like commenting ‘first‘ on a social media post. While both accomplishments might be equally meaningless to some, they both are tremendously important within their respective communities. This logic equates a rookie card of Michael Jordan to the first comment on the most significant Instagram post of all time!

Therefore, card number fifty-seven out of one-hundred and thirty-two of Fleer’s 1986/87 set might be the most sought-after modern basketball card there is. It is considered by most to be the premier rookie card of the undoubtedly best basketball player and arguably greatest athlete of all time. Hence, it is enjoying grail-status among Jordan aficionados and cardboard collectors alike. But why this card, exactly?

Due to a widespread distribution coupled with availability at mainstream retailers, the G.O.A.T.’s rookie card is surprisingly easy to obtain even today, thirty-three years after its original release. Given the necessary amount of caution regarding fakes, one thousand dollars will get you a copy of the card — in reasonable condition, at least. And that’s precisely the crux of the matter.

While close to 18.500 copies of M.J.’s rookie card were sent to professional grading services, only 307 (1,6%) of them have received the perfect grade of 10 out of 10 or ‘gem mint.‘ The prestigious attribute carries significant weight in the collector community, bumping the price up dramatically. It’s no Honus Wagner, but perfectly executed versions of the card have fetched prices of over $ 32.000 (on eBay) and even $ 41.000 (at auction sites) as recently as last year. Actually, you can take your chance at an auction set to expire on November 14th, which currently sits at a downright modest $ 15.750 after 13 bids. Just don’t expect it to stay that cheap.

Image by Andrew D. Bernstein / getty images, illustration by BSTN

Seeing that premium versions of the card are continually fetching top dollars, it comes as no surprise that prices for the 1986 Fleer Jordan card have gone up consistently across the board. Granted, there are Michael Jordan trading cards that have sold for more money in singular instances. And yes, technically, some cards have been published earlier and therefore could claim ‘first comment’ on the rookie card debate. But the reason why the iconic Fleer RC is enjoying continuous growth in popularity might lie in its simplicity!

In addition to the set’s characteristic red, white, and blue borders, card 57 has an aura of desirable purity to it. While more modern Jordan collectibles rely on autographs, patches of game-worn jerseys, or both, the ’86 edition makes do without any of its successors’ fancy features. It’s just a young Michael Jordan, dripping with potential at the beginning of what we now know to be an unparalleled career. The picture shows him soaring through the air with his tongue out and the unmistakable Chicago written in cursive on his 84-85 Bulls jersey.

Authentic Michael Jordan jerseys by Mitchell & Ness are available at BSTN!

The jersey triggers fond memories for many fans as it is a staple in some of the most iconic images of Jordan’s career, including those from the 1985 NBA Slam Dunk Contest (like this post’s lead image). Part of the charm of those early Bulls jerseys is the fact that an iridescent print applied names and numbers onto them, commonly reflecting incident light quite noticeably. The same effect can be found on the 84-85 home and the 85-86 road jersey, all reminiscent of a specific time in Jordan’s career. Back then, he wasn’t the G.O.A.T. yet. He was just a promising young star, floating effortlessly through the air with his tongue out and with Chicago scribbled on his chest.

If your piggy bank does not yield a medium-high five-figure sum — or you’re simply not into collecting colored cardboard — but you’d still like to bathe in the glorious nostalgia of the early chapters of Michael Jordan’s career, make sure to check out the exquisite collection of authentic jerseys by Mitchell & Ness! 

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