Magic Johnson, Larry Bird. Bird, Magic. The two players broke into the NBA in the 1980s and helped kick off what would be an unforgettable decade with their teams winning numerous titles. With all due respect to Michael Jordan who would lead the way in the 1990s, the 80s clearly belonged to Bird and Magic.
The pair are forever linked not only because of their rivalry as players but because of their most important rookie card. The iconic 1980-81 Topps card which features both players along with Hall of Famer Julius Erving is one of the most special basketball cards on the planet — and collectors are willing to pay dearly for high-grade examples. The card had been soaring to new heights and last year, reached a new level. A Gem Mint PSA 10 last fall, sold for $125,000 – a new record for that card.
Does that scare you off? Well, consider this — that’s the price for a top-of-the-line example. Six figures for any sports card is going to be out of the range for most collectors. But even lesser-graded Magic and Bird rookies don’t come cheap. PSA 9s now sell for several thousand dollars and even a more modest PSA 8 will can sometimes cost you more than a grand. You can get lesser examples for a few hundred dollars but even that isn’t in everyone’s budget.
The good news is that, if you’re enamored with either player and looking to get a rookie card, you can find many cheaper ones in the set.
Unique Design Creates Possibilities
The 1980-81 Topps basketball cards were perforated with three panels. As I’ve written before, many of these cards were separated. Three players were included on each one and were mixed and matched on various cards. The key thing here is that, while the best Bird and Magic rookie is the one with both of them on the same card, each of them is also found alone with other players on other cards, significantly dropping the price tag.
In all, he has a total of six different cards in the set. And while some of those cards included some decent players, none is on par with Magic. If the main Bird / Magic rookie card is out of your price range, any of those cards make for good substitutes.
A similar situation exists with Magic. Magic is only found on three other cards to Bird’s five. But all of those cost significantly less than his primary rookie where he appears alongside Bird. And if you’re looking for other stars, one of the Magic rookies also includes the aforementioned Erving.
Why are they on so many cards? Part of the reason the pair was featured on other cards is because of the success they had as rookies. One of Bird’s cards, for example, pictures him as a Scoring Leader. On another, he’s a Rebounding Leader. Bird dominated and led the Celtics in both categories in 1979-80, even as a rookie. Meanwhile, one of Magic’s other rookie cards includes an icon signifying he was an All-Star in his first season. The two had unquestioned success and it was clear that collectors wanted a piece of the action. That probably made the decision to get them into the set as much as possible an easy one.
The good news for collectors is that these other rookies sell for a fraction of the combined Magic / Bird rookie. How much cheaper? Significantly.
Remember that PSA 10 example of the dual Magic and Bird rookie card that sold for $125,000? Well, a PSA 10 Magic Johnson rookie card where he is pictured alongside Maurice Cheeks and Ron Boone recently sold on eBay for just over $500. Quite the difference. The card is no less a Magic Johnson rookie card but without Bird, the price tag isn’t even in the same ballpark. Same for Bird. His PSA 10 cards without Magic are similarly priced.
If you’re willing to ‘settle’ for a PSA 9, things are even more affordable. Plus, the lower the grade, the cheaper the card. You can find a Bird/Bill Cartwright/John Drew card for just a few bucks. In fact, it isn’t hard to find respectable copies of rookie cards for either player alone on eBay for under $5o. That kind of affordability to can fit almost any budget.
Obviously, the dual rookie of Bird and Magic is always going to be the main card in the set. But fortunately, Topps gave collectors several opportunities to snag a rookie card of either player at a fraction of the price of that iconic card.