1985 Nike Michael Jordan

It's hard to imagine a basketball player greater than Michael Jordan, despite what Scottie Pippen might say.

In an ESPN interview in May, Pippen suggested that LeBron James might be the greatest NBA player ever.

"Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer ever to play in the game," said Pippen in the interview, "but I may go as far as to say LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game."

His comments sparked a furor amongst Bulls fans, and Jordan's ex-teammate quickly backtracked, tweeting that he only meant that James has the potential to reach Jordan's level.

"I'm seething. I've talked about nothing but since Scottie uttered those blasphemous words," said D'Orsay Bryant, who owns the top Jordan Master Set on the PSA Set Registry. "There's no way that LeBron James can be considered a better player than Michael Jordan because of two words: six rings."

Joe Prizio, who possesses the registry's No. 4 Master Set, agrees.

"There's everyone else and then there's Michael Jordan when it comes to sports in my opinion," he said.

And it's hard to argue with these collectors. On top of his six NBA championship rings, Jordan also holds the career record for most points per game during the regular season (30.12) and playoffs (33.45). The five-time NBA MVP and 14-time all-star has also won two Olympic gold medals (1984, 1992) and 10 NBA scoring titles.

Not bad for a player that couldn't crack his high school team as a sophomore. But that slight is largely responsible for his now legendary competitive spirit and it helped him earn a basketball scholarship to the University of North Carolina. In the 1982 NCAA championship game, Jordan sank the winning shot against Georgetown as a freshman.

Following his junior year, Jordan would enter the NBA draft and was selected third overall by the Bulls. Chosen after Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston) and Sam Bowie (Portland), Jordan wasn't projected to be an offensive force, but he quickly proved his detractors wrong by scoring 28.2 points per game in his rookie campaign.

Jordan would proceed to revolutionize his sport. His dunks became posters and his affiliation with Nike made his shoes must-have footwear around the world.

"He has worldwide admiration," said Bryant, who wears "Air Jordans" to work every day and attended one of Jordan's basketball camps in 1997. "No one even today can top his visibility or his status as a worldwide icon in any sport."

This global popularity helps explain why seven Jordan sets - Basic, Basic & Collector Issues, Master, Basic Fleer, Master Fleer, Basic Topps and Master Topps - are being hotly pursued on the PSA Set Registry.

The Fleer Rookie

The most coveted Jordan card is his 1986-87 Fleer rookie (#57). Showcasing an exciting action shot, this single helped usher in a new era of hoops cards.
The most coveted Jordan card is his 1986-87 Fleer rookie (#57). Showcasing an exciting action shot, this single helped usher in a new era of hoops cards.

The most coveted Jordan card is his 1986-87 Fleer rookie (#57). Showcasing an exciting action shot, this single helped usher in a new era of hoops cards.

"The Jordan rookie is recognized as the key card in basketball history," said Bryant. "That card revolutionized the art of collecting basketball cards. The Jordan rookie card really supercharged the basketball hobby."

Fragile red and blue borders and poor centering can make this card difficult to uncover in top grade.

"It's very hard to find a perfect, dead-on centered copy," said Prizio.

Of the 12,693 submitted, there have been 134 PSA GEM-MT 10s. One PSA 10 sold for $5,555 on eBay in April 2011.

Collectors also have to be wary of counterfeits. Buying a Jordan rookie already graded and authenticated by PSA is the easiest way to ensure that the card is the real deal.

"Fakes tend to have poor color on the front," noted Jay Toomey, who owns the registry's top Jordan Basic Set. "The colors are not as sharp as the originals."

Pre-Rookie Cards

Collectors also covet Jordan's 1985 Nike card. Flaunting a colorful horizontal shot of the superstar dunking, this card was reportedly part of a six-card, multi-sport set that was distributed at Nike retail locations. There are 48 PSA 10 Jordan cards, and one sold for $495 on eBay in March 2011.

1985 Prism/Jewel Michael Jordan

Jordan's 1985 Interlake Bulls single, however, is much more elusive than his Nike card. Measuring 5" by 7", this card was reportedly distributed via the Boy Scouts Youth Incentive Program in the Chicago area. Just 16 have been submitted to PSA, and there has yet to be a PSA 10 copy. A PSA EX-MT 6 sold for $152.50 on eBay in May 2011.

Another tough-to-find, 1985 Jordan issue is his Prism-Jewel sticker. Printed on flimsy stock and reportedly distributed in vending machines, the Jordan and the 13 other stickers in this set are often miscut and showcase scratches.

"People had the stickers and they peeled them off and stuck them on their phone or on their books," said Prizio.

So far, 43 have been evaluated and Bryant owns the only PSA 10. One PSA MINT 9 fetched $1,999 on eBay in June 2010.

Tough Master Set Cards

Jordan's 1986 Merchante Spanish card (#163) is one of his toughest Master Set singles to track down. The front of the card boasts both a head shot and an action shot of Jordan. Red and blue stars surround the action photo, while the back showcases an ad for Converse shoes.

"I've never been able to find out how they were released, but I do know that they were meant to be glued into an album," said Dave Back, who's selling a PSA-graded copy on eBay.

Back has only seen three or four of these Jordans. Just four have been evaluated by PSA, with PSA NM 7 being the highest grade recorded.

Prizio says that another elusive single is Jordan's 1991 Caesars Palace Lake Tahoe Heavy Hitters single. Part of an eight-card set that included other celebrities like Maury Povich and John Elway, this pasteboard was reportedly handed out to clients that shelled out big bucks to golf with celebrities as part of a promotion. Very few of these sets have survived and surfaced for sale. Just one PSA 10 and one PSA 9 Jordan have been graded.

Jordan's 1992-93 Fleer Team Leaders card (#4) is also highly sought-after. Part of a 27-card series distributed in first-series Fleer rack packs, this Jordan single has dark blue borders that are susceptible to chipping. Of the 207 submitted, there are just 10 PSA 10s, one of which fetched $675 on eBay in March 2011.

And competition for these hard-to-find Jordan cards can be crazy.

1996 Flair Showcase Michael Jordan

"Essentially, I'm competing against the entire world," said Bryant, who has encountered collectors from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China and Taiwan. "Even the top baseball and hockey collectors ... if they collect one other athlete, it's Michael Jordan. There's worldwide competition for his cards."

Prizio has had a similar experience.

"It just seems like everyone collects their favorite player, but in addition to that, everyone collects Michael Jordan," said Prizio. "And I've noticed there are more and more people collecting the Master Set."

While Jordan is now an NBA owner, to most, he's still the greatest player in NBA history.

"He's the greatest basketball player that has ever played the game, and in fact, he has been designated the greatest athlete in any sport," said Bryant, referring to the fact that ESPN named him athlete of the century in 1999.

Prizio expresses similar sentiments.

"Michael Jordan is the Babe Ruth of our era," said Prizio. "Maybe Scottie has been smoking with Dennis (Rodman) lately. Michael Jordan is the best. He's the greatest - end of story."

Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. D'Orsay Bryant and Dave Back provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted are those as of June 2011.

On top of his six NBA championship rings, Jordan also holds the career record for most points per game during the regular season (30.12) and playoffs (33.45). The five-time NBA MVP and 14-time all-star has also won two Olympic gold medals (1984, 1992) and 10 NBA scoring titles.

The most coveted Jordan card is his 1986-87 Fleer rookie (#57). Showcasing an exciting action shot, this single helped usher in a new era of hoops cards.