While Fleer was still in the process of acquiring the NBA’s trading card rights and Star Company was in its final year of production, collectors in the Denver area could find Michael Jordan on a trading card they picked up while grabbing a combo meal. Like seemingly every other basketball card set or single card, this one’s starting to pick up steam. The 1985-86 Denver Nuggets police set would otherwise have been left as a hobby footnote, collected only by those who love the obscure or the nostalgia that is 1980s hoops.
“Police sets” or “safety sets” were a popular promotion from the late 1970s through the early 90s. The Nuggets partnered with Denver area law enforcement and a commercial sponsor or two in 1982-83 and ’83-84. After a year off, the sets returned in 1985-86.
The 12 cards in the set were handed out one at a time (or were supposed to be) at Wendy’s restaurants in the area. This time, there was a tear-off tab at the bottom where you could enter a sweepstakes to win a trip to London on Continental Airlines (RIP), a home theater system from Panasonic, Nuggets tickets or Wendy’s food. Kids who collected the entire set could bring them to a late-season game to “meet the Nuggets players,” according to a blurb on the back.
With the tab, the cards measure about 2 ½” inches by 5 inches. Action photos are surrounded by a navy blue and beige-colored border while the backs have safety tips from the players and contest rules and prizes listed.
The checklist includes Hall of Famer Alex English and 11 other players, but it’s the Elston Turner card (#8) that has turned hobby heads over the years and especially the last several months. Turner’s card shows him being guarded by a young MJ.
Except for Star’s sets that were distributed by mail or hobby shop dealers, Jordan cards from his earliest days as a pro simply don’t exist. Even though this card isn’t a “Jordan card” it’s attracted a lot of interest over the years from knowledgeable collectors. And not surprisingly, it’s not all that easy to find. Over the years, PSA has graded 85 of those with tabs. Thirty-one of those have been rated 9 and there’s only one graded 10. Three cards without the tab have also been graded. There are likely some ungraded sets and individual cards in private collections and it’s safe to say some who own them may not even know about or remember the Jordan cameo if they’ve owned one for a long time.
The complete set was valued at around $8 six years ago but those days are long gone. Prices for the best copies of the Turner/Jordan card have jumped into the $200-$600 range. There are currently several complete and partial sets and singles listed for sale and auction on eBay.
As a regional set that doesn’t appear to have been released after market in any kind of large quantity, the 1985-86 Nuggets Police Turner/Jordan is likely to remain quite scarce. The only question is how much stock collectors will continue to place in a card where the greatest star of all-time plays the unusual role of accidental tourist.