What defines an iconic basketball card? For me an iconic basketball card is one which has recognition, demand and rarity. What is the most iconic basketball card in history? I don’t think many would disagree that the 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie card is appropriately awarded this title.
Here we are talking about the 1986-87 Fleer #57 card which is commonly known as the Michael Jordan rookie card. Not all collectors would agree this is the true Michael Jordan rookie card, however the terminology largely endures.
Recognition: Jordan, pictured in his rookie season, is flying to the rim in a perfectly timed photograph. The design of the 1986-87 Fleer set - Fleer’s first - is an example of a beautifully designed vintage-era card. The print quality of the set also produced some gems in terms of boldness of colour and clarity.
Demand: No serious Jordan collector wouldn’t want the 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan #57 card in their collection. Given Jordan is one of the most popular athletes in history it is no surprise this card is in serious demand.
Rarity: Wait, hang on, this card is far from rare. There are currently several hundred available for sale on eBay alone right now. Estimates put the card at a print run of over one hundred thousand.
So how does the Jordan RC earn the title of the world’s most iconic basketball card if it isn’t rare?
Well, in this case the recognition and demand on the card contribute to the rarity. While many thousands are in circulation there are enough collectors purchasing them that their values stay high - especially those on the high-end of the condition spectrum.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a version of the Michael Jordan rookie card which was in fact rare in its own right? Fortunately there is!
1986-87 Michael Jordan Rookie Card Buyback auto
In celebration of 20 years since the 1986-87 Fleer set Upper Deck, which had recently acquired the Fleer brand, released the 2006-07 Fleer set which was designed to reflect elements of its 86-87 forebear. Additionally, the set included the 1986-87 Fleer 20th Anniversary insert set, one 1986-89 Fleer buyback card (sealed in a plastic wrap) per hobby box and most notably the chance at a 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan RC buyback autograph.
Upper Deck had bought 23 Michael Jordan rookie cards back from the secondary market, witnessed Jordan sign them on-card, serially numbered them to 23 then included redemption cards in the 06-07 Fleer set. So this release gives us only 23 MJ rookie cards autographed and released as part of an official Fleer set - now we have serious rarity!
Here’s a video of collector Ive Van Weddingen opening the delivery from Upper Deck containing his autographed Michael Jordan rookie card. Here he pulls serial number 8 and as of publication date remains the original owner. See below for an image of his card.
How rare is the Jordan buyback autograph rookie card?
Let’s dig into the rarity aspect a little more as this was a redemption card. What this means is that any unclaimed cards are not released by Upper Deck. Now that the redemption period is long over we can assume that no further Jordan RC buyback autos will make it into collector hands.
I’ve enquired with Upper Deck to check if they will share the official number of claimed cards as well as confirm whether unclaimed cards are destroyed or stored away - I will update the article with the response.
In the most recent auction of a 1986-87 Michael Jordan RC buyback auto by prestigious auction house Christie’s the claim was made that 14 are known to exist. Potentially this means this is a 1/14 card.
How available is the Jordan buyback autograph rookie card?
Rarity and availability can be very different factors in trading cards. Some heavily abundant cards can be almost impossible to find for sale - particularly frustrating when looking for a common player card to finish a parallel set. Other times very rare cards change hands often.
For example, cards many consider some of Jordan’s top trading cards such as the 1/10 1997-98 Michael Jordan PMG Green and 1/23 1997-98 Upper Deck Game Jersey auto have each been available publicly for sale many times over the past decade.
I recall only 3 public sales of the Jordan RC buyback auto in the last decade. 20/23 by Probstein on eBay in 2020 for $125k and previously on eBay for $70k in 2018 and the previously mentioned Christie’s sale of 21/23 for $1,008,000 including buyer’s premium.
Of course there are other Jordan autographed 86-87 Fleer RC’s however these, having been in-person obtained autographs by collectors, were not released as part of an official Fleer set. Additionally, Jordan is no longer signing this card due to his agreement with Upper Deck.
Jordan RC owner Johnny*
Recently collector and owner of a BGS 8.5 with auto 10 copy, Johnny*, wrote in to share his story and excellent research into this rarely seen card. Johnny would like to keep scans and the serial number of his card offline however is happy to share his story and research.
See below for scans of all cards he’s been able to find online.
I began collecting mainly baseball cards as a child in the 1980s and into the 1990s. Pretty much any money I acquired went to buy baseball cards. Into the 1990s I purchased my first Jordan card. I believe it was an Upper Deck card and not anything limited or expensive. My other notable Jordan cards I own now are a 2001 Upper Deck Ovation UNC Floor Autograph card limited to 23. I also own a 1991 Upper Deck baseball Michael Jordan PSA 10 card. My holy grail card is the Jordan Buyback Auto.
Johnny obtained his Jordan RC buyback auto from a dealer with two copies for sale in 2009.
Around the time of the housing market crash and great recession, I was negatively affected by the crash in the housing market and took a break from investing. I remember walking in a foot locker at a mall while shopping and asked the staff why the Air Jordan shoes were more advertised than the other shoes? I was informed by the Foot Locker staff that the Air Jordan shoes were their biggest sellers, out selling active NBA players shoes. Even though Michael Jordan had been retired for several years now. As I walked out of Foot Locker shoeless without making a purchase, I said to myself that I would invest in something Michael Jordan for the long term.
After several weeks of investigating my investment options, I found a private dealer that had two 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan Buyback autograph cards. Yes two!
The card I purchased, a 1986 Fleer Jordan Buyback Autograph graded BGS 8.5 with an auto grade of 10. The other card the private dealer had was a 1986 Fleer Jordan Buyback Autograph graded BGS 9 with an auto grade of 9 (The highest graded of the Jordan Fleer Rookie Buyback Autos). Deep down inside I knew at the time I should have purchased both cards but I truly couldn’t afford it at the time and I was very excited to just purchase one.
I asked Johnny what its like to hold such an iconic card and what he’s happy to share about the condition and quality of the autograph.
It’s truly magical holding a Jordan rookie card that Michael Jordan himself held and signed. Plus the fact that Upper Deck released it to the public in packs as a buyback makes it unique compared to the 321 Jordan 1986 Fleer rookie PSA 10s cards in circulation. The card I own is the 1986 Fleer Jordan Buyback Autograph graded BGS 8.5 with an auto grade of 10.
The sub grades are: Centering 9.5 / Edges 8.5 / Corners 8.5 / Surface 8. Out of the 23 Cards that exist, BGS has only graded 12 cards and PSA has graded a total of 2. The other 9 unaccounted cards are believed to have never been pulled. My card is the second highest graded card by BGS.
Johnny has been able to track down scans of 6 other copies of the card and shares his research below. He has never been able to connect with another owner of one - if you have one or know of a collector who does please get in touch. Johnny plans to hold onto his card for now.
I am not aware of any other 1986 Fleer Buyback Auto owners. It is truly a lonely club out there. I have only seen 2 other cards for sale at auctions since I purchased mine a decade ago. Ebay sold an 8.5 card with 10 Auto in 2018 for $70,000. That same card Probstein would sell right after the last dance documentary in May of 2020 for $125,000. Christie’s Auction would sell an 8.5 card with 9 auto this past June 2022 for $1,008,000.
I plan on holding on to it for now. I don’t have any plans to sell it. I feel like the card is truly a piece of collectible history.
04/23 Michael Jordan RC buyback auto
If I recall correctly I saw 04/23 for sale raw on eBay around 2009 or so with an asking or sale price of around $30k (I can’t verify this at the moment unfortunately). In fact I’ve used it on this site as the image for the card.
Card number 4 was also offered to Johnny when he bought his copy after it had been graded BGS 9 with a 9 auto as pictured here.
08/23 Michael Jordan RC buyback auto
Here is Ive Van Weddingen’s card (as shown in the mailday video above) - Michael Jordan Fleer 86-87 #57 buyback auto number 08/23. Ive still has this card as its original owner.
20/23 Michael Jordan RC buyback auto
Card number 20 was most recently sold by Probstein in May 2020 for $125k and previously via eBay in 2018 for $70k. It is graded a BGS 8.5 with auto 10.
21/23 Michael Jordan RC buyback auto
Card 21 is the famous copy sold by Christie’s most recently in 2022 at $1,008,000. It is graded by BAS with an 8.5 grade on the card and 9 on the auto.
The scan used in the Christie’s auction appears to show the auto to be in black ink however a past owner shared an image under an LED showing the auto to be in blue ink.
Update August 02 2023
Heritage auctions has card number 21 currently listed in auction. The auction currently sits at $186,000 including buyer’s premium with 17 days remaining for bidding - I’ll update here once the auction closes with the final sales price. Will it reach the $1 million that the card previously sold for in the 2022 Christie’s auction?
As at August 20, 2023 this auction has concluded with a sale price of $264,000 including buyers’ premium.
02/23, 16/23 and 22/23 Michael Jordan RC buyback autos
Johnny has located scans of card numbers 2, 16 and 22 however has no information on the provenance of these. Please do write in if you have any information on these copies.
Due to the presence of watermarks, we can see that card numbers 2 and 16 have at some point been for sale on eBay and that a scan of number 22 has been uploaded to a photobucket.
Do you know the whereabouts of any further copies?
We are interested in connecting with other owners and finding more information on the whereabouts of the remaining copies. Please do write in if you have any information and happy collecting!