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A guide to collecting the best Michael Jordan cards

The Real Star Co Cards Story - Interview with renowned Star cards expert Steve Taft

Debunking the incorrect information surrounding early Star Co sets in the 1990's and looking at identifying counterfeits.

Interview provided by Steve Taft

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The 1984-85 Star Co Michael Jordan XRC card is one of the most sought after Jordan cards available. In fact most of Jordan’s Star Co cards are highly sought by serious collectors due to their age, rarity and history.

However many websites and other sources reported that many of these cards, specifically the 1984-85 Michael Jordan XRC, were reprinted by Star Co using the original printing plates in an unauthorized print run in the 90’s. It was reported that this meant that even some of the big grading companies avoided grading these cards for this reason.

While it is correct that the owner of Star Co did print cards which were not authorized by the NBA, this run did not include the 1984-85 Michael Jordan XRC.

I was able to track down an interview with one of the world’s most knowledgeable experts of Star Co cards and Star cards grading trainer to BGS and GAI, Steve Taft.

In the brief interview Steve shares what really happened with the unauthorized reprinting, the level of counterfeit 1984-85 Star Co Jordan XRCs around and how collectors can authenticate real Star cards for their collection.

Be sure to check out my article on the Michael Jordan true rookie card which also features Steve Taft.

84-85 Star Co Michael Jordan XRC
84-85 Star Co Michael Jordan XRC
The True Michael Jordan Rookie Card - the Michael Jordan Star #101

Interview with Steve Taft Please briefly describe your background with the Star Co sets.

Steve Taft: I was an original dealer of Star Co. basketball cards, dating back to ordering the company’s first offering, the 1983 All Star Game Set. I’ve maintained a large inventory of Star Co. cards for all these years. How is it that you came about to be regarded as an industry leader in identifying authentic Star Co cards?

Steve Taft: In the early 1990’s I was contacted by a couple guys selling some cards that were different from the cards I originally bought direct from Star. It was this event that made me research and study the cards very intently. Ultimately, I had a meeting with the NBA’s lead attorney on “counterfeiting” issues as they were trying to determine where the bad cards were coming from.

When the 1997 Shop at Home “counterfeits” surfaced, the NBA had a Private Investigator on the case. He called me to get a general background on Star, and, to get my opinion on the legitimacy of the cards. He was on the case, already, because the NBA thought the cards were likely illegal, and, I pointed out many reasons why I agreed with them.

The key point I was able to provide, that, up to that point had been left out, was that the so-called 1984-85 Olympic Team issue being sold on Shop at Home could include ineligible NBA players, as, Ewing, Mullin, and Tisdale all went back to school for a year after the Olympics, and, did not enter the NBA until the 1985-86 season. I don’t know what the NBA thought of this piece of info, but, to me, it was the smoking gun.

Upon this info, the Star Co. owner was followed to the print shop and a search warrant was issued. They found cards in the process of being printed. The NBA filed a lawsuit against the owner of Star Co, Shop at Home, and some others. The NBA won approximately $1 million in the lawsuit.

Where this is important to the hobby, and what is almost always confused, is that Star Co. and their printer did not re-print their original cards. They made new cards (in 1997), but, back-dated these cards to 1985 and 1986.

A couple examples are a 1986 Lite All Stars and a 1986 Crunch N Munch. These sets have different color borders and a different date than the original sets. Many of the cards from this 1997 counterfeit run used the same photos from original Star Co. cards, but, the set names and/or dates were different. Border colors were also different. The cutting patterns were another easy thing to spot.

An easy way to work thru this is to use the Beckett Annual Price Guide. If the set is not in the Annual Beckett, specifically by year and name, it’s not an original. Also important to note, these 1997 cards were printed by a shop in Florida, the original Star Co. cards were printed by two shops near the PA/NJ border area.

It was a couple years later that I got involved with training graders and preparing my “Star Co. Authentication Manual” for grading companies to use. It is commonly reported that the 1984-85 Star Co set was reprinted by Star Co in the early 90’s. Is this true and if not which sets were reprinted, if any?

Steve Taft: No, this is NOT true! Now that we know about the 1997 Shop at Home scandal, I think if the owner of Star could have made exact duplicates of his cards, he might have given it a try. Problem is, I don’t think it’s possible to match the cutting characteristics of the original cards, plus, the original printers were no longer in business.

Star did not print their own cards, the work was contracted. So, the original equipment is no longer available. The paper stock could probably be duplicated, but, I just don’t see how they could have cut the cards the same. A little common sense, here, if you could exactly reproduce your original cards and get away with it, why would you make “new” cards and back-date them to sell to Shop at Home? It would have been a lot easier to make an extra 500 Jordan 101 Rookies that could have been wholesaled quickly at $2000 per card back then.

Admittedly, there’s a lot more details to this, but, I hope this is enough to at least clarify the big picture. How prevalent, do you believe, are counterfeit 1984-85 Michael Jordan Star Co XRC cards?

Steve Taft: With all the rumors about counterfeits of this card, the amount of counterfeits is very small when compared to the MJ Fleer RC counterfeits. (Small in comparison to the Fleer counterfeits, but, still plenty of them to put a hurt on a lot of unknowing collectors).

The other little secret, is, the three main counterfeits are very easy to spot. The vast majority of counterfeits are sold via online sources, most notably on that very famous site… I recommend avoiding the ungraded Jordans via online sites unless you know your stuff or are dealing with a known Star Co. specialist.

It never ceases to amaze me how many collectors jump at a “deal” on a Star (or Fleer) Jordan RC that turns out to be a fake. A legitimate dealer is not going to give you a Jordan RC in nice shape because you’re a nice guy. The margins between buy / sell on a key card like this are tight. It’s generally not a card a dealer can make a killing on because nobody is going to “give” a dealer a nice MJ RC dirt cheap.

I would recommend collectors buy their Jordan (and other key RC’s that have been counterfeited) from well known dealers. Ask around, you can figure out who can be trusted and who might be questionable.

As to grading, BGS and GAI are currently grading Star Co. cards. Both of these companies hired me to train their grading staff and provide them with my “Star Co. Authentication Manual”. I also did this with Sports Collector’s Digest many years ago, but, as most people know, they have closed their grading company while continuing to publish hobby magazines and books.

Two caveats:

  • Sports Collector’s Digest should NOT be confused with Sports Card Direct. I have nothing to do with Sports Cards Direct and never will…
  • GAI has a limited problem to be aware of - that is somebody has copied their “old” label and is using generic slabs in attempt to pass them off as real GAI Star cards. Mike Baker at Global is not grading these counterfeits. It should be easy to spot, as, it’s not a Global slab, it’s a generic slab. Without giving away any trade secrets what are some basic techniques that collectors can use when identifying authentic 1984-85 Star Co cards?

Steve Taft: I think you want to know about the tricks of the 1985-86 Star Co. issue, card #‘s 95-172. The original issue cards tend to have front border color bleed to the back edge(s). The 2nd batch, that I consider counterfeit, even though it was printed at the original printer, where the time of printing is in question, among other things, does not bleed onto the back edges. The original batch tends to have flatter colors and cards tend to be a fraction larger. The 2nd batch tends to be brighter in color, have more gloss, and, tends to be a fraction smaller. When those factors are difficult to figure out, you go to the layering of the film negatives. Border frames around the picture will vary, but, that’s a card by card difference, not something that I can spell out here. Of note, GAI and BGS graders pick up on these differences very quickly. Once they’ve got these mastered, the rest is very easy…

This is probably a good place to make a personal comment… While I have trained grading company staff on Star Co. authentication and provided them with samples and my “Star Co. Authentication Manual”, I do not work for, or at, any grading companies. Once I’m done training them, I go back to being a card dealer. I do not grade cards for any grading companies. I do make myself available to them should they have a question or a submission that might require my consulting regarding authentication. Is it possible for your average collector to identify reprinted Star Co cards? If so what should we look for?

Steve Taft: Yes, in general, the things mentioned above. Once you’ve got a core collection, use those cards as samples to compare. What is your number one tip for collectors interested in adding Star Co cards to their collection?

Steve Taft: I don’t know that there’s just one tip. First of all, and this applies to all types of cards, if it’s too good to be true on a key card, it probably is…

One thing I like to tell new collectors that shop online, buy from a dealer that uses their real name or store name. A professional that plans on being in business in the future wants potential customers to know their name, and, while that may not guarantee an honest transaction, it greatly improves the odds of an honest deal. Most of the online sellers involved in counterfeit sales go by “cute or smart-ass” nicknames.

Find out who the long time Star Co. dealers are, and, who has the reputation for knowing the cards well, obviously, with the ability to make sure you get the real thing. I’d like to raise my hand, here, as I can do that for collectors. I don’t guarantee to match the price of the guy selling counterfeits, but, my cards are original. There are other sellers that can be trusted, too.

Beginners should probably get a few BGS or Global graded cards and make sure they buy from known Star Co. experts. Once a collector has some Star cards in their collection, it gets easier to learn. The first thing I tell the grading companies at a training session, is, “the dirty little secret is Star Co. authentication is not as difficult as it is rumored to be…“.

The other batch of Star counterfeits came along around 2003-2006. These cards were likely printed in Ohio or PA, as, that’s where the main distributors lived. They flooded that famous online site with Star Co, Minor League Baseball, Sportscasters, Kenner SLU cards, and a few other counterfeits.

It appears they may have shut down as one of the “sellers” was arrested about two years ago. These cards feature re-built font and borders, and, are fairly easy to spot, especially with a comparison card to sample. The original Star owner had nothing to do with this batch.

All the Jordans and most of the key RCs were done by this group. I consider this group to have been one of the two largest counterfeit distribution networks in hobby history. They also did huge amounts of minor league baseball cards, Sportscasters, 1985 Nike MJ’s, and, even some vintage Bazooka BB. In fact, they probably made every mass-produced counterfeit of the last ten years or so.

Finally, it’s not all that difficult to learn about Star and determine what’s authentic. If you can tell a 86 Fleer original from a fake, you can easily learn to do the same with Star. Thank you Steve for your time and expertise in this area. I hope this helps clear up a lot of the confusion around these cards.

Steve Taft runs a couple of great online stores where you can find his guaranteed authentic Star Co items available: