It might be one of the most inadvertent — and infamous — backgrounds in sports card history.
Two men who resemble convicted murderers Erik and Lyle Menendez appear in the background of a 1990-91 Hoops basketball card depicting the Knicks’ Mark Jackson. It’s a recent discovery, oddly unknown despite the product’s 28-year-old vintage and wide availability.
On the card, Jackson is shown making a bounce pass. In the background at the far left, about hip-high to Jackson, sit two men who certainly appear to be the infamous brothers, who are now serving life sentences after fatally shooting their parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez, on Aug. 20, 1989.
There has been no confirmation that the men sitting at courtside are the Menendez brothers, and the background image somewhat distant and slightly blurry. Both are currently incarcerated at the R.J. Correctional Facility in San Diego, according to CBS News.
But it sure looks like Erik and Lyle. They would appear in a different court several months later.
The brothers were sentenced to life in prison without parole on July 2, 1996. Lyle is now 50, and Erik turned 48 on Nov. 27. Before they were arrested on March 8, 1990, they spent a large amount of their parents’ money, according to court records. The brothers bought cars, expensive watches and took trips. Lyle even bought a chicken wing restaurant in New Jersey, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1994.
A reference to the card can be traced back to an Instagram post in August from a user who collects “mortality subject matter.” He told us he learned of the image through an avid collector of crime memorabilia who “has a knack of finding offbeat stuff.”
Speculation about the card gained some traction late Friday when Twitter user John Rosenberger shared an image of the card, tweeting that he had seen some discussion about the card on the website Reddit. His tweet went viral.
It’s possible the brothers could have sat courtside at Madison Square Garden to watch a Knicks game during the 1989-90 season. The Knicks had played 28 home games before the brothers were arrested in Beverly Hills, California.
The Menendez family estate the brothers were set to inherit after their parents’ deaths was valued at $14.5 million, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1994. But taxes and legal fees basically wiped out the assets, the newspaper reported.
Darren Rovell, a sports business reporter for The Action Network, reported that the photograph matches the timeline of when the brothers went on a spending spree after their parents’ murders.
This checks out. Menendez murder happened Aug. 20, 1989. Brothers were apprehended March 1990. Photo was taken at MSG in 1989-90 season and set came out before 1990-91 season. https://t.co/n2vzRBA6Sg
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) December 8, 2018
Jackson played seven of his 17 seasons in the NBA for the Knicks and coached the Golden State Warriors from 2011 to 2014. He is currently a commentator for ESPN.
As word spread of the infamous duo’s appearance, dozens popped up for sale on eBay and have been selling briskly at $15-$30, sometimes higher. Unopened boxes, readily available for under $10 for most of the last two decades, were bringing $40-$50.
By Saturday evening, Amazon had only a few 1990-91 Hoops Mark Jackson singles and a few boxes for sale.
Rob Veres, the owner of Burbank Sports Cards, whose company stocks tens of millions of cards at its southern California location, said Saturday evening that he had sold 130 of them recently–most in the last 24 hours after word spread online. Some collectors, though, had discovered the card last summer and began buying them from him.
“We knew about it a few months ago and bought up a few hundred of them thinking it could be something special if the general public discovered it. Those cards along with 100 cards we had in regular stock gave us a nice quantity. We started selling them at $7.99 months ago and they moved all right, but when the Reddit post went viral and it hit Bleacher Report as well as the hobby sites things got crazy.”
Raising prices hasn’t mattered. Veres told Sports Collectors Daily last several dozen have gone for anywhere from $14.99 to $24.99 each.
“The mind-blowing stat is the 8,349 page views for this single listing, 7000 of which have been in the past 36 hours, I can’t recall ever seeing anything like that. We’ve got about 175 of them left (may have more elsewhere if we need to dig) and we’ll be pricing per what the market dictates going forward, as of this moment it’s $24.99.”
While the card will certainly be a long-term curiosity, the Jackson card is far from rare. Prior to the weekend, it was among thousands taking up space in countless boxes of “junk wax era” cards, carrying virtually no value.
It’s certainly not the first time infamous persons have appeared in the background of a photograph.
Most famously, a photograph exists of John Wilkes Booth in attendance at the second inauguration of Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1865, History.com reported in 2015. Six weeks later, Booth would assassinate Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington.
The Jackson card now becomes what should be a lasting oddity in the world of sports cards, even if prices don’t hold. At least for now, it has dealers and collectors actually in the market for at least one more card from an era where few are ever in demand.
Update 12/10: eBay sent out numerous notices to sellers, indicating their cards had been pulled because of their connection to the murders but as of late Monday night, there were more than 200 listings still online.
— Ryan Fowler (@FreelanceFowler) December 11, 2018
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