1986-87 Fleer Basketball Case Sells for Record-Breaking $1.78 Million

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1986-87 Fleer case, recently purchased in a record-breaking auction.

An unopened case of 1986-87 Fleer basketball cards sold for $1,789,717 late Thursday night in an auction conducted by Wisconsin-based Collect Auctions.

It was bought by Tom Fish, owner of Blowout Cards, on behalf of a buyer who wishes to remain anonymous. Fish said the buyer intends to keep the case in tact for the near future.

Michael Jordan’s rookie card, which is featured in the set, has risen to new heights, thanks largely to ESPN’s “Last Dance” documentary. A gem mint Jordan rookie has sold for as high as $97,200 in the aftermath of the documentary, and has remained steady at around $80,000.

The case bought Thursday is from the collection of Larry Fritsch, a dealer who was in the card game 50 years ago and saved many unopened boxes. It contains 12 boxes of 36 packs each. The collector who bought the case paid $149,143 per box, a 36% increase from the previous record.

Based on previous boxes, the case should contain 36 Michael Jordan rookies and 36 stickers, though it’s far from guaranteed that they will be in mint condition.

The 1986-87 Fleer set is one of the most remarkable stories in card collecting. The collecting world largely neglected the 1986-87 Fleer basketball set, much like the 1952 high-number Topps cards were that were dumped into the ocean because no one wanted to buy them.

Although basketball was gaining in popularity in the mid 1980s, card collectors were still predominately baseball or bust. Packs of 1986-87 Fleer cards were initially marked at 50 cents a piece like its baseball counterpart. But in many parts of the country, they were marked down to as low as 10 cents — and even that wasn’t helpful to some dealers.

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We couldn’t move those packs,” Bob Elliott of SportsCard Plus in Lacey, N.J. recalled. “In fact, at $6 a box, we got our money back by returning them back to Fleer.”

Jeff Rosenberg, president of sports autograph and memorabilia company Tri-Star, bought 10 cases in 1986 as a senior at the University of Texas for $720.

He paid his fraternity brothers to open packs and put together sets, then sold them at $10 each. His profit was a little bit north of $3,000.

“I thought I was genius,” Rosenberg recalls. In recent years, Rosenberg has acquired many boxes of 1986-87 Fleer and kept them unopened.

Much like the 1952 Topps cards, that now feature the second-most valuable card after the Honus Wagner in the Mickey Mantle, the 1986-87 Fleer set came back from the dead and leapt to absurd popularity.

Those packs that couldn’t sell for 10 cents a pack in 1986 sold for $4,143 each on Thursday night.

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