A staple for several years, the Fleer Tradition Basketball line paid homage to past Fleer sets in design, whether directly or indirectly.
1998-99 Fleer Tradition honored the iconic 1961-62 Fleer Basketball set. The “Vintage ’61” inserts that were part of the Tradition product had an upgraded parallel that took the line to an entirely new holographic and limited level. Called “Classic ’61,” these came in a striking holofoil version, with each is serial numbered to a microscopic 61 copies. These cards are so rare that it can be difficult to even find an image of some online, let alone see one in person or, better yet, own one.
The cards have a thick, bright white border and a separation of the upper third of the card with a colorful box that houses the team name and team logo. In the thin bright white stripe you will find the player’s name and, in this modern case, a brief text description or note of the featured player. The bottom two thirds of the card features a crisp black and white action shot of the player.
The card backs hold very true to the original Fleer design, so there’s nothing too spectacular. It’s a horizontal design that offers a player’s name, position, team and other basic information with a few sentences of text. In this case, the card number is followed by the letter C and the cards are serial numbered with the number followed by “of 61” and the words “Classic ’61.”
Except for the three checklists, the entire 1997-98 Tradition set gets the holofoil treatment. There are 147 cards in all with the images on the Classic ’61 cards identical to the ones found on the Tradition base cards whether it be the full image or a cropped version with a single color background. We won’t go over each card in this review but we will touch on the notable cards in the set.
The first card in the set features Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant. As classic as the card design is, you will find an equally classic image on Bryant’s card. Under his name, the text notes that he’s “powering up for a dunk.” The picture used shows him slicing past a shot swatting Michael Jordan to finish at the rim. Obviously, one of the more noteworthy and iconic images in the entire set and a wonderful moment in time.
Fittingly, Philadelphia 76ers point guard Allen Iverson is found a card number three. In another classic image, he’s seen laying the ball up and under as San Antonio Spurs superstar Tim Duncan defends (an appears to be ready to swat the shot.)
Michael Jordan is found at–of course– card number 23. In an cropped version of his original card in the Tradition set, MJ is shown mid release in his iconic white Bulls 23 jersey.
Sticking with the card number matching the player’s jersey number, card number 31 features Indiana Pacers sharp shooter Reggie Miller dialing long distance. He’s raising up, getting ready to release his signature jump shot as Phoenix Suns PG Jason Kidd gets a hand in his face to defend.
Utah Jazz Hall of Fame forward Karl Malone is featured at card number 32. The Mailman is pictured delivering one to a new home, ready to crush one of his patented one handed jams at the rim.
The San Antonio Spurs number 50, Hall of Fame center David Robinson is found at card number 50. The Admiral is shown throwing down a thunderous, two handed jam with the caption “A Mighty Slam for the Admiral’. So many cards in the set capture a moment that is worthy of inclusion in a classic set.
There are a handful of the more iconic players in the game featured a second time, later in the set. Card number 142C is where you will find Michael Jordan again, titled The Perfect 10. MJ is shown in a beautiful shot ready to release his patented jumper over and outstretched hand of the defender.
Scottie Pippen is featured at a card number twice as jersey at number 66. In another classic image, Pippen is seen driving down the lane, ready to throw down a one hand to dunk over Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone.
These cards are nearly impossible to find with such a limited print run. A PSA 8 example of the 142C Jordan card sold for over $3,000 in July of 2019. Potential buyers can tack a few zeroes on the end of that number to even get in the arena to purchase theses gems today.
Amazingly, the Jordan card numbered to his jersey number of 23 was sold for right around $1,500 ten years ago. It’s hard to even imagine what that piece would go for today.
Speaking to the impossibility of these cards, PSA has graded just over 300 total cards with only five total Gem Mint copies awarded. Jordan, Kobe and company don’t exist in PSA 10 holders. There are some listed on eBay right now–but not many.
The set does a masterful job of honoring a legendary set with equally legendary modern players and current technology and stands tall as one of the more desirable and valuable sets of the era.