'The Last Dance' Fuels Huge Increase in Demand for Jordan Cards and Autographs
By Kevin Glew
A highly publicized documentary during the COVID-19 pandemic has reignited "Jordan 23" mania.
The record prices collectors are paying for high grade Michael Jordan cards in recent weeks are evidence of this trend.
The tremendous spike in demand for Jordan cards has been fueled by the fact that many of the hundreds of thousands of people who are stuck at home waiting out the coronavirus have been glued to ESPN's riveting, 10-part documentary about the Chicago Bulls legend called The Last Dance.
"The Last Dance has boosted interest tremendously," said Joshua Dawson, who owns the No. 2 Jordan Master Set on the PSA Set Registry.
Dawson has been a Jordan collector since 1993 and he has never seen prices for the superstar's cards this high.
"With The Last Dance airing and COVID-19, I think it's been a perfect storm of people being at home and looking to get back into collecting," explained Dawson.
"Then I think you get people like Gary Vee and some of these celebrities that have millions of followers [on social media] saying that they're starting to collect cards. That all feeds into it, too, because then you have people that are not sports collectors, but they're wealthy and looking for a way to diversify their portfolio. So, you've got a lot of new money coming into the hobby as well."
Joe Minetti, who's collecting six different Jordan sets on the PSA Set Registry, offers a similar assessment.
"I think the documentary and the shelter-in-place [orders] during the pandemic have a lot to do with it," he said. "With this documentary out, it has just brought in this huge base of collectors and investors. It has really given the awareness to Michael Jordan that I always expected would come, but I couldn't have anticipated that it would happen this quickly. It's really the perfect storm for the price appreciation of Jordan cards."
Cedric McCord, who owns the No. 4 Current Finest Jordan Basic Set on the PSA Set Registry, has witnessed the same surge in interest.
"The prices are hard to believe," he said. "As a matter of fact, even from February to now, there has been a significant increase."
The release of The Last Dance also came on the heels of the moving eulogy Jordan delivered at Kobe Bryant's memorial service in February, which was broadcast around the world. Bryant died in a helicopter crash on January 26.
"I do think there's a Kobe factor in it," said PSA/DNA authenticator George Renaud, when asked about the recent increase in demand for Jordan cards and autographs. "I think the two events [Kobe's death and The Last Dance] combined with the coronavirus keeping everybody at home and constantly watching the market have really made for a firestorm on Jordan items, and prices are skyrocketing."
The Last Dance provided a behind-the-scenes look at Jordan's legendary career with a strong focus on the Bulls' final championship season (1997-98). The documentary showcases Jordan's cold and unyielding commitment to winning and how that drove him to become the best and most influential basketball player in the history of the sport.
On top of his six NBA championship rings with the Bulls, 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 who couldn't crack his high school team as a sophomore. But that slight is largely responsible for his 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.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Jordan proceeded to revolutionize his sport. His dunks became posters and his affiliation with Nike made his shoes must-have footwear around the world. This resulted in collectors from all over the planet coveting his cards.
"You've got a globally recognized athlete, a globally appreciated athlete and the internet makes this world an incredibly small place. Anyone anywhere can put a Jordan card up in an auction and you've immediately got a global audience, a global group of buyers for that card, so it's incredibly competitive," said Minetti.
And Jordan's global popularity has only increased since the airing of The Last Dance, which helps explain why eight Jordan sets - Basic, Basic & Collector Issues, Master, Super, Basic Fleer, Master Fleer, Basic Topps and Master Topps - are being hotly pursued on the PSA Set Registry.
The Holy Grail of Jordan cards is, without a doubt, his 1986 Fleer rookie (#57). This highly sought-after single features an iconic photo of him dunking. Fragile red and blue borders and poor centering can make it difficult to uncover in top grade.
"The prices for Jordan cards right now are hard for me to believe because I see a PSA [MINT] 9, 1986 Fleer Jordan going for about $10,000. And when I bought one 12 or 13 years ago, I paid $1,100," said McCord.
Dawson has witnessed the same trend.
"About two years ago at the National in Cleveland, the rookie rose to about $40,000 [in PSA GEM-MT 10 grade]," he said. "Everybody said, 'Sell it! Sell it! Sell it!' I didn't sell mine because I only had one, and then it dropped from $40,000 to about $25,000. It was at $25,000 for two years... but now, as you can see, they're selling for nearly $100,000."
In May 2020, a PSA 10 Jordan rookie sold for a record $96,000 in a Heritage Auctions sale and $99,630 shortly thereafter at Goldin Auctions.
Other Basic Set Cards
And it's not just Jordan's rookie card that has taken off in value. Almost every Basic Set card has jumped in price.
"I tend to focus on the PSA 10s," said Minetti. "And I remember as recently as two or three years ago, you could get common base Jordan cards in that grade for probably around $20, but that's just unheard of now."
Prices for early Jordan cards, in particular, have increased dramatically. For example, McCord owns a PSA 9 of Jordan's 1987 Fleer card (#59) and was hoping to upgrade to a PSA 10. At the beginning of the year, PSA 10s of this card were selling for around $4,000 each. By the end of April, however, a card in the same grade had garnered $7,500 on eBay.
"There are less than 200 of the 1987 Jordan Fleer cards in PSA 10," noted Minetti. "I think there are 300 or 400 of the 1986 rookies. Now, obviously no one is going to argue the merits of a rookie card, but the 1987 is a difficult card to find, and the supply-and-demand curve is off the charts right now."
It's a similar story for Jordan's third-year Fleer single (#17). Near the beginning of April, a PSA 10 example sold for $760, but by May 13, one in the same grade had fetched $1,425.
The fourth-year Fleer Jordan (#21) is also in high demand, though it's easier to secure in top grade than his first three Fleer singles. On April 1, a PSA 10 went for $192 on eBay and on May 12, after The Last Dance began airing, a card in the same grade garnered $500.
Rare Master Set cards
Prices for some of Jordan's rare Master set cards are also soaring. Dawson recently shared an image of his PSA 10, 1998 Fleer Playmakers Theatre Jordan card (#9) (just 100 were manufactured) on Instagram. It's the only PSA 10 example.
"The value of that card had been right around $10,000," said Dawson. "But I've received two legitimate offers from people for $35,000."
The veteran collector adds that other rare Master Set Jordan cards have also been increasing rapidly in value.
"The cards I don't have in my [Master] set, I'll never have because the prices are now so high that I'm never going to get those missing pieces," he said.
PSA/DNA authenticator George Renaud says Jordan autographs have also been in strong demand.
"With this documentary out, I would say he's currently the most coveted athlete autograph," said Renaud. "I know vintage people that only collect vintage, but they want Jordan autographs."
Renaud, who was a hardcore autograph collector prior to his current role, says Jordan was a relatively accommodating signer during his college and early pro career. In Jordan's early signatures, you can read almost every letter in his first and last names.
"His autograph was pretty full, all the way up until about the early '90s," said Renaud.
In 1992, Jordan signed an autograph deal with Upper Deck and the company has been releasing exclusive signed photos, jerseys and basketballs ever since. After that deal, he began to sign less frequently in-person.
"I just think he has been a lot less accessible since the early '90s in general," said Renaud.
His in-person signature was also shortened and became sloppier over time, with fewer letters being legible.
Renaud says collectors have to be wary of Jordan forgeries. He estimates that up to 80 percent of the Jordan autographs submitted to PSA/DNA are not authentic.
"He's without a doubt the most forged basketball autograph," said Renaud.
Still there's no shortage of authentic Jordan autographs, but collectors must be prepared to pay a lot of money to secure one in the current market.
To give you an idea of the increase in price of his autographs, a PSA 9 Jordan rookie with a PSA/DNA authenticated signature sold for $25,411 on eBay in April 2019. Now fast forward to this May, while The Last Dance was airing, and a signed rookie card with an autograph graded PSA/DNA 9 was being offered for $150,000 or Best Offer on eBay.
Hobbyists are uncertain if Jordan cards and autographs can sustain their current lofty prices, but they're convinced that the Bulls superstar will continue to be hugely popular long after The Last Dance and the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I watched some basketball in the '80s before Jordan. I live in Atlanta and I was a Dominique Wilkins fan. I remember Larry Bird and I remember Magic, but when Jordan came along, and with the introduction of the Air Jordan shoes, everything just seemed to change. It just seemed like the NBA changed," said McCord. "I know they always talk about Magic and Larry saving the NBA in the late '70s and early '80s, but it was Michael Jordan who took it to a new level and made it global."
"I absolutely think he's the most recognizable athlete in the world," he said. "He does one thing LeBron can never do. LeBron could win 50 titles and he could score 50,000 points or whatever. But it was Michael Jordan who made the game global. He made the game popular in China, Japan and Europe. People in every country in the world know Michael Jordan. He even made basketball a fashionable thing with the shoes. He's a global sensation."
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Please note the PSA Population Report statistics, Set Registry rankings and pricing referenced are as of June 2020.