The aftermath of the settlement between Topps and its early 1980s trading card rivals pushed gum out of wax packs at Fleer and Donruss so the companies apparently felt they had to come up with some kind of added attraction. For Donruss, it was puzzle pieces. Fleer opted for something equally interactive but more practical. After all, what good is a puzzle piece if you’re not engaged in breaking the puzzle card into pieces putting the whole thing together?
Little did one company know that its basketball inserts would spawn so much interest more than three decades later. The 1986-87 Fleer Basketball Sticker set has become a hot market by itself. Prices have been rocketing upward, especially for Michael Jordan. PSA alone has now graded nearly 38,000 of them with 12,250 examined by Beckett and over 3,000 rated by SGC.
Fleer’s run of basketball sticker inserts began with that first set with one inserted into each wax pack. There were just 11 in the set and like the regular set itself, collation was generally good, meaning you typically pulled three complete sticker sets from a box. The centering? Well, that’s another story.
The checklist was a who’s who of the sport. All 11 are Hall of Famers. How many sets have that distinction? Here’s a look at the players in that inaugural set.
#1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
New York native Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spent his college career at UCLA before the Milwaukee Bucks won a coin flip and made him the first pick in the 1969 NBA Draft. He led Milwaukee to its first title in 1971, when he was named MVP of both the regular season and the NBA Finals. A move to the Los Angeles Lakers yielded another five championships. He remains the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points.
The Abdul-Jabbar sticker is the toughest to find centered without any other condition issues. It has the fewest Gem Mint and Mint copies of any of the 11 stickers.
#2 Larry Bird
Drafted sixth overall by Boston in 1978, Larry Bird went back to Indiana State for one more year, then signed with the Celtics and went on to complete a Hall of Fame career. Bird spent the entirety of his career with the Celtics, winning three NBA Championships and two Finals MVP awards. Along with several others in the Fleer set, he also won a gold medal with the 1992 U.S. Olympic “Dream Team.”
During his career as a player, coach and executive, Bird won every major award available in the NBA.
The Bird sticker has the second fewest 10s, but trails Abdul-Jabbar by a sizeable margin.
#3 Adrian Dantley
After a brilliant career at Notre Dame, Adrian Dantley started his somewhat nomadic NBA career with the Buffalo Braves. After winning Rookie of the Year in Buffalo, he was traded to the Indiana Pacers, followed by another trade to the Lakers the following year. Following a series of trades, Dantley joined the Detroit Pistons and made it to the 1986-87 Eastern Conference Finals.
Dantley was the NBA’s scoring champion in 1981 and 1984 when he was also named the Comeback Player of the Year.
The Dantley sticker is the least expensive in the set but 10s are a little less plentiful than the those of the second least expensive sticker (Alex English).
#4 Alex English
University of South Carolina product Alex English was drafted in 1976 by the Milwaukee Bucks, but it was during his decade with the Denver Nuggets that English made his professional name when he broke 31 team records and Denver went to the playoffs nine straight years. No player scored more points in the 1980s than English, who finished with 25,613 from 1976-1992.
The supply of PSA 10 English stickers ranks at the top of the chain with 4.7 percent of those submitted.
#5 Julius Erving
Julius Erving, better known as Dr. J, remains one of the most influential players n the history of the game. After a successful college career at UMass, he signed with the ABA’s Virginia Squires, winning two titles. The Hall of Famer played a role in changing the culture of professional basketball when he felt the Squires and his agent had colluded to offer him a below-value contract. A move to the New York Nets made Dr. J the most important ABA player of all-time and brought championships in 1974 and 1976.
Following financial issues upon their entry to the NBA, the Nets traded him to the 76ers, where Erving added to his legend. He won a title in 1983 and played four more seasons.
Collectors were fortunate he opted to stick around for one final season in 1986-87 and Fleer included him in both the regular card and sticker sets. If centered, his sticker is fairly easy to land in at least a NM/MT 8.
#6 Patrick Ewing
A New York Knicks legend, Patrick Ewing entered the NBA in the 1985 Draft as the number one pick. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Ewing was a standout as a high school player in the Boston area before announcing his intention to play for Georgetown University. Upon entering the NBA, Ewing was named Rookie of the Year, despite injuries limiting his time.
The six-time all-star saw a leap in his points per game average in the 1986-87 season, which reached 21.5 before hitting a personal best of 28.6 in 1989-90. Ewing’s position as a Knicks great was secured when his number 33 was retired.
There are over 700 9s on PSA’s Population Report alone, enough for third place.
#7 Magic Johnson
Earvin “Magic” Johnson remains one of the greatest players in basketball history. Johnson decided to play college ball at Michigan State when he was promised game time at his favored point guard position. A versatile and multi-skilled player with a flair that was the essence of the “Showtime” Lakers, Johnson won an NBA championship and the Rookie of the Year award in the 1979-80 season.
During the 1986-87 season, Magic averaged a career-high 23.9 ppg and won his first Finals MVP award during the Lakers’ win over the Celtics.
Fittingly, the population and higher grade examples of Magic’s sticker just about mirror that of Bird.
#8 Michael Jordan
Generally considered the greatest player of all-time, Michael Jordan took the Chicago Bulls franchise to unmatched success. Overlooked by the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets, he was taken third by the Bulls in 1984. In his rookie season, Jordan averaged 28.2 points per game and became known as a phenomenon. The Bulls would complete two three-peats during Jordan’s career from 1984 to 1998.
The five-time NBA MVP and six-times Finals MVP scored a career-high 37.1 points-per-game during the 1986-87 season.
Jordan sticker prices have boomed but compared to population and pricing of his regular rookie card, it might still be underrated. More are being authenticated and graded each day, over 13,000 by PSA alone. Less than one percent are graded 10, however.
#9 Hakeem Olajuwon
Nicknamed “The Dream”, Olajuwon improved the performance of the Houston Rockets to over .500 during his rookie season of 1984-85 when he finished as the runner-up to Jordan for Rookie of the Year. Olajuwon won two NBA championships, winning the Finals MVP in both. Playing from 1984-2002, he finished his career with 26,946 points, 13,747 rebounds and averaged over three blocks per game.
Olajuwon made his second of 12 All-Star appearances in the 1986-87 season and his rookie sticker is one of the keys to this set.
Olajwon’s rookie card in the regular ’86-87 Fleer set has been hot and the sticker is moving upward, too. There are well over 700 graded 9 by PSA, second only to Jordan.
#10 Isiah Thomas
Chicago native Isiah Thomas led Indiana to the NCAA Championship in 1981 before being drafted second overall in 1981 by the Pistons. Voted one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all-time, Thomas played his entire professional career in Motown, winning two NBA Championships in 1989 and 1990.
During the 1986-87 season, Thomas averaged 20.6 ppg, his last season averaging above 20.
His sticker is tough to land in high-grade with the second fewest combined total of Mint and Gem Mint examples on record, behind only Abdul-Jabbar.
#11 Dominique Wilkins
Dominique Wilkins was known as the “Human Highlight Film” during a career that took him to the NBA and the top European basketball leagues. Born in France, Wilkins was named the SEC Player of the Year during his time at the University of Georgia before being drafted third overall by the Utah Jazz. The Jazz traded him to the Atlanta Hawks before his rookie season began.
Wilkins was coming off a scoring championship when the 1986-87 set was released, beginning a run of high-scoring seasons. The nine-time All-Star played in Atlanta for 12 seasons before embarking on a nomadic end to his career that included time spent playing in Greece and Italy.
Nique’s rookie sticker can be a challenge in higher grades, with the third fewest 9s graded thus far.
You can check the current market for 1986-87 Fleer stickers on eBay here.