Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Air Jordan. His Airness. MJ. The G.O.A.T.
Michael Jordan really was that kind of legend. Y’know, the kind of athlete who earns so many nicknames that you almost forget some of them (remember when people used to call Jordan “The Black Cat?”). Not since Babe Ruth had an athlete become so ubiquitous in the culture or accrued so many monikers, and not since O.J. Simpson had a black athlete been so widely accepted by mainstream America.
It feels redundant to even discuss his statistical achievements; Jordan has been lavished with praise ad nauseam. But still, here’s one statistic that really boggles the mind: from the 1986-87 season until the 1988-89 season, MJ accounted for over 1% of all NBA scoring. Over 350 players played in the NBA during that span. You could select an entire 12-man NBA roster from that collection of 350 players—a 12-man roster comprised of world class athletes, mind you—and Michael Jordan would have single-handedly outscored that entire roster over the course of a season.
Anyway, Jordan truly was The G.O.A.T., and everyone loved him. People still love him too. His memorabilia sells like water in the desert, and his rookie card graded 10 by PSA sells for about 20,000 dollars. The same Fleer card given a 10 by Beckett (a grading service that almost never awards 10s) went for 100,000 dollars at auction in 2011! He’s valuable and beloved, and maybe you also have his rookie card. Sure, it’s not a 10, but it’s still pretty cool, and you love it, and you’re proud of it.
Well you shouldn’t be, because all of those cards are lies.
At least they might be. See, way back in the mid 1980’s, around the time when Reagan was running for reelection and people were debating the president’s mental health (crazy, right?), no one was printing basketball cards. No one except for one oddball company that would disappear by the decade’s end. That company was Star, and they might have been the ones responsible for printing the true Michael Jordan rookie card.
You’ve probably never seen this Jordan rookie card because only around 5,000 were ever printed, and Star’s distribution protocol could be described as...nonsensical. It was hard for them to break into the card distribution business so they pretty much sold to whoever was buying. This led to them selling a lot of their cards in bizarre places, including minor league baseball and hockey games. They also opted to forgo the traditional random-seven-card-pack method of selling cards to consumers. Instead, the cards were sold in team packs. So if you bought a Clippers pack (lord knows why you would have), you would have been guaranteed every Clippers player in print.
So if Star definitely printed a Jordan card for the 1984-85 season, why do some people claim that the 1986-87 Fleer card is the real McCoy? In part, because of the unconventional distribution method Star employed. The limited run and weird ways and avenues through which the cards were sold lead some collectors to dismiss the Star Jordan rookies as mere extended rookie cards. Furthermore, Star had some authenticity issues. Rumors of unauthorized reprints using the original plates scared many away, and added extra fuel to the illegitimacy fire.
Thankfully, Beckett has found ways to authenticate the original Star cards from the reprints, and has been grading the cards since 2008. Because of this, we here at SMR Collectibles do believe in the 1984-85 #101 Jordan cards as the genuine rookie cards. They’re rad and rare, and we love Star as a funky oddity in the long and storied history of card collecting. We love them for being the only company to print basketball cards during the era of great ‘80s basketball rookies. We love them for selling in ways that no one else ever did. And we love them for being fiercely unique, even if it ultimately let to their demise.
Star Jordan cards are few and far between, and to have a high grade one is to have a wholly unique piece of Jordan memorabilia. No one knows how few there are, and as the time marches ceaselessly forward, more and more will be trampled under its boots. We at SMR are lucky enough to have a few, and we’ll be sad to see them go, but we’re excited and honored to be a stop on their hopefully long and wonderful journeys.