ESPN has hit the quarantine gold mine with “The Last Dance,” the 10-part documentary that chronicles the career of NBA legend Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s.
And so have sports cards dealers.
Prices for Jordan cards, primarily his basketball ones — but also those from his attempt to play baseball — have skyrocketed. So, too, have the prices for the cards of the Bulls’ other dynasty-era players and the rookie cards of Jordan’s contemporaries.
Jordan, though, has carried the hobby to heights not seen in decades. His 1986-87 Fleer rookie card, for instance, has sold recently for $51,000 with a 10 gem mint grade.
“The market is changing like I’ve never seen it before,” longtime dealer Bill Sliheet said. “There’s a lot of new money coming into the hobby just based on that documentary. It’s mind-blowing. Michael Jordan cards have gone up two-fold since the month before The Last Dance was announced.”
Sliheet and his brother, Sam, are owners of the Arlington, Texas-based Superior Sports Investments, an online card shop that also has stores on Amazon and eBay. They have sold every kind of Jordan card, from his Fleer rookie to his 1991 Upper Deck baseball rookie.
The ’86 Fleer is regarded as Jordan’s rookie card because it was produced on a larger scale. However, Jordan’s first card was a 1984-85 Star, No. 101. Rather than coming in a wax pack, it was sold as part of a limited-edition Bulls team set giveaway.
There might be only 3,000 of them in existence, Sliheet said, but they are undervalued. Nevertheless, collectors, not necessarily investors, are still shelling out big money for the Star card.
But not as much as the ’86 Fleer. That card, No. 57 of the set, with a Beckett Grading Service grade of 9 on the 10-point scale was selling 90 days ago for $5,000, said Sliheet, but the cheapest one he could find Wednesday on eBay was in the neighborhood of $15,000.
He sold a Beckett Collectors Club Grading 10, the equivalent of a BGS 8.5, last week for $13,000. On the more affordable end, he sold four ungraded Upper Deck baseball rookies cards Wednesday for $32, cards that wouldn’t have sold for more than $10 before The Last Dance.
The timing of the ESPN documentary during the coronavirus pandemic has helped the card industry as a whole. Stimulus money is entering the economy from collectors returning to the hobby. No one is able to spend money to attend sporting events, and investors are looking for something safer than the stock market.
“There were speculators coming in knowing this was going to happen,” Sliheet said. “When The Last Dance went live, the Jordan product went crazy.”
The value of rookie cards of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, Jordan’s Bulls teammates, from the 1988-89 Fleer set have also soared. Sliheet said an ungraded Pippen rookie would sell for $100, as opposed to $20 before The Last Dance, and one with a 10 grade might sell for $2,000.
But no player’s cards in any sport are more popular than Jordan’s.
“A lot of these guys watched Michael Jordan in their teens and 20s,” Sliheet said. “Now, they’re making money. The Last Dance came on. Now, they’re saying, ‘Man, I want a Michael Jordan card.’ ”
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