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Why the 1986 Fleer Is Still Jordans True RC to Me

Updated: May 1

One thing I appreciate about writing articles for Hobby News Daily is the freedom to express our thoughts and opinions. As writers, we are not micromanaged to appease a narrative, the industry, or any particular person. 

Danny Black, Founder of HND, gave us the freedom to express ourselves, and that's what I like best about writing for him. The only suggested boundary was, “Just don’t get crazy.”

This freedom suits my fancy well this month as I try to calmly express my disappointment about the narrative that says, “Beckett Publications got it wrong; the 1984 Star #101 is the true Michael Jordan rookie card.

In typical fashion, the industry buckles under pressure to appease the few entitled collectors who want to cash in or flex. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve been told about an article written inside Beckett Basketball in October 2022. I’m told they have now changed their stance on the Star brand.

I will withhold my opinion of this Beckett Publication decision until I get my copy for a video I plan to make. The magazine is coming, and the video will be featured on my YouTube channel, Victor, The Rookie Card Specialist.

For almost ten years, I have dedicated my life to unpacking the exciting story of how the rookie card has evolved. I look at the past and present-day status of the rookie card in an effort to better understand this hobby icon. Why? Because, my friends, not all rookie cards are created equal.

I have debated this topic many times and in many different settings, but I’ve never put pen to paper per se until recently. I’ve had lunch with Dave @high_speed_card_chase on IG, who is perhaps the most prominent advocate of the Star brand I know. We’ve had fun discussions over the years but always respect each other's opinions. 

At the end of the day, these are sports cards. However, today, I’d like to share with you that contrary to the hype, I don’t consider the 1984 Star to be the True RC of Michael Jordan.

At the Heart of the Matter

Rewriting history is most concerning to me. The current narrative says Beckett Publications got it wrong. But history is about understanding facts. It’s about the story of how we got to where we are.

Rewriting it to fit the narrative that everything was wonderful is harmful. But on the other hand, rewriting it to say they’ve deceived us and got it wrong is also detrimental.

In my studies of the rookie card, I often imagine myself in that era. What were the rookie card standards of the day? What were the hobby's feelings toward these cards back then?

A common mistake in this debate is that we often use today’s standard of a rookie card and apply it to the 1984 Star. This practice is erroneous. It is rewriting history.

As the rookie card boom of the 1980s came into formation, tough decisions had to be made. Whether they’re right or wrong or align with your or my beliefs is irrelevant. History is what it is. But we can learn from it! 

The argument that says it was the year he started in the league is a great point. I love this principle. However, that was not the principle in 1984. Back then, most rookie cards were not featured the year they debuted in the league. This principle was not part of the equation! But It is today. This standard was imposed upon us by the Player’s Association in 2006. And it was a great decision in my opinion.

Sadly, I’d like to add that even this gets twisted today. Why do we have rookie cards of Elly De La Cruz in the 2024 product when he played more than half the season in 2023? You know, the year in which he debuted in the league. And why did Michael Harris win 2022 N.L. Rookie of the Year in 114 games played that season and no rookie cards until the following year? 

A rookie card should only be featured when a player reaches a pro-level roster. Why didn’t this happen? Because manufacturers push the boundaries to fit their profit margins. Could investors be doing the same with the 1984 Star Michael Jordan? I will say no, just passionate collectors.

Here’s how I see it. 

Star Co basketball cards just never caught on. Consumer confidence suffered with the seemingly negative publicity the Star brand was getting. The PSA banishment of Star in 1991 only confirmed or solidified consumer confidence.

The standard of the day was that 1986 Fleer was the first mainstream product produced in pack form with National distribution since the 1981-82 Topps set. Everyone had a fair and equal chance at pulling or owning it, which was the standard throughout the 1980s.

The clear team set polybags available through mail order or only through specific pre-approved dealers/distributors was not the established criteria for the rookie card in 1984. “But why does that matter? It doesn’t matter to me?” It matters because it mattered in 1984, regardless of what you or I think today. 

Some dealers did not agree with Beckett Publications' decision to label the 86 Fleer the RC. Those who owned the Star brand especially disagreed. Since so few of these are available, they strategically sat on them for such a time as this, a retirement payout once the narrative was changed and enough time had elapsed. But admittedly, this retirement payout theory is only my assumption. 

Finally, the way basketball fans connected with Michael Jordan and the 86 Fleer #57 for over four decades is second to none. It is the card engrained into the hearts and minds of collectors. I was fourteen years old in 1984 and was fortunate enough to call myself a collector in this era. 

I was fortunate enough to live in the Chicagoland Region and watch just about every game MJ was televised in. Bulls games were a way of life for me between 1988 and 1999, and can I tell you that in my heart and mind, the 1986 Fleer has always been and always will be Michael Jordan's true rookie card.

A Healthy Compromise

I know how those who advocate for the Star card feel. I, too, have been tempted to rearrange some things about the rookie card past. Oddly enough, I agree with most of their arguments. But I decided some time ago that I shouldn’t try to rewrite history. 

How would that be fair to fellow collectors who have invested so much of their money into the 1986 Fleer? To publicly devalue it and publicly disregard how others would feel about it is arrogant and selfish. Even worse to slap our hobby forefathers in the face is unconscionable. Somebody didn’t think this all the way through.

I'm thinking this through, and here’s my conclusion. Some cards in the hobby do trigger debate, and for those unique cards, I refer to them as *RC (asterisk). 

This triggers me to think that this rookie card has some debatable history. Furthermore, I firmly advocate that this identifier should be given to both cards. The Star Co. #101 and the 1986 Fleer #57 are both *RC to me. After that, you decide; for me, it's the 1986 Fleer #57 all day, every day!

Until next month,

Victor, The Rookie Card Specialist

*Remember friends. Not all RCs are created equal;)


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