What do Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt, Ken Griffey Jr, Wayne Gretzky, Bo Jackson, Jerry Rice and Howie Long have in common with Spike Lee, Bo Diddley, Billy Crystal, Buggs Bunny and Super Dave Osborn? Answer: They all starred in the iconic set of Nike posters released in the 1980s.
Nike was founded in 1964 by track coach and runner Bill Bowerman and Phillip Knight as Blue Ribbon Sports, later becoming Nike, Inc. in 1978. The name Nike was reportedly chosen in reference to the Greek Goddess of victory. In 1978 Nike’s advertising agency, began developing so-called “personality posters,” depicting athletes in unusual settings and poses. The posters were initially issued to be advertising pieces for in store use. By popular demand, they later started selling the posters to the public.
Most stores did not have enough room on their walls to mount all the large Nike posters they had for sale, so Nike adopted a 5 x 7 inch format and printed cardboard “mini posters” which were a way of showing off the series in a compact format. They were meant simply as a tool for stores with only one of each typically provided to each location where the larger posters were sold.
Nike went through at least three generations of counter and floor display models to house the colorful cards. A fellow collector who actually worked for a company printing the posters and poster cards at the time in Portland, recalls that these were indeed called “poster cards” by Nike and those involved in their production.
None of the standard baseball card price guide/catalogs has been able to checklist this massive multi sport set. Grading companies have often had a revolving policy on which ones they would and wouldn’t grade based mostly on the lack of any checklist description in their typical sources. Past editions of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards are still being printed, but no new editions have been published since 2016, so there is currently nowhere to archive the information like old friend Bob Lemke used to do for the community.
This work is summarized in an article in the June 5th issue of Sports Collectors Digest and on their web site.
Numerous attempts to contact Nike for an official checklist of all the posters have resulted in zero response (too busy making money I guess). Six-digit “Nike stock numbers” (290XXX) exist for all the posters/poster cards we have found in nearly 40 years of collecting. We have determined these stock numbers by their presence on the front or back of the Nike poster cards themselves, from Nike sales order forms, from the labeling on the outside of the unopened plastic wrap containing the rolled up posters and from Nike poster catalogs that were sent to their customers during that time period.
Type 1 through Type 4
Through the years 1982 – 1992 there have been four distinct types of Nike poster cards. During this period, these were printed on a 5 x 7 inch format first on cardboard (Type 1) and then on thinner stock (Type 2, 3 and 4). Starting in 1993 Nike completely changed the numbering system and started to produce 4 x 6 inch poster cards. The latter will not be discussed here.
Type 1 – black background, hole punched for attachment, information printed on back
Type 2 – black background, no hole, information printed on back
Type 3 – white background, no hole , information printed on front
Type 4 – no background, no hole, no information printed on front or back.
Type 1. So far we have confirmed 61 Type 1 poster cards. These start at number 290201 and run through 290249 with eight currently unidentified numbers. They pick up again at 290850 and run through 290869. Our thought is that the first group 201-249 were all released in the 1982/83 time frame and the second group of 20 posters were released around 1985 through 1987 as evidenced by their presence on Nike order forms.
Type 2 poster cards are distinguished from Type 1 in that they are printed on thinner stock and they do not have a hole punched in them for attachment to any counter top display. They initially show up in the grouping 820 through 828 and again with 14 poser cards between 290875 and 290898. So far we have confirmed 14 Type 2 examples.
Type 3 poster cards are both the last and largest group produced. Early displays allowed reading the back of the poster card to identify the poster name and stock number. In later displays, the slots for the poster cards were stationary so all information had to be on the front of the poster card. They exist between 290828 – 290849 and 290880 – 291010 in addition to a few of the more popular posters that were continually produced over this period of time (mainly Michael Jordan). In total we have identified 113 different Type 3 poster cards and eight that were reprinted from Type 1, 2 or 4 in 1990/91.
Type 4 The Type 4 poster cards have no identifying information on the front or back. They are printed on thin stock and are found in two groupings; seven cards between 290811 – 290817 and 12 between 290870 – 290887. So we have confirmed 19 Type 4 poster cards. If you are expecting a logical explanation for why they were printed without any information on them, prepare to be disappointed. They appear in two distinct groups; at least seven of the group from 290811 through 290819 and then again in at least 12 of the group 290870 through 290887. Exactly why these two groups were printed without information on the front or back remains a mystery.
Holding the record for the most Nike sports posters is Michael Jordan. Part 2 of this article will deal exclusively with the 25 Michael Jordan posters issued during this period (20 unique + five reprinted as Type 3). Other sports stars who received more than their share of poster exposure included David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Nolan Ryan, Bo Jackson, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe. Posters also included “guest appearances” by Spike Lee, Little Richard, Super Dave Osborn and Billy Crystal.
Type 1 are numbered consecutively from 290201 “The Supreme Court” (241) to 290249 the Ryne Sandberg poster “Cornerstone” (249).
Current collectors agree that we have never seen eight missing numbers in the sequence ( 290203, 205, 207, 209, 210, 215, 216, 236) . Maybe they were planned for production but contract issues canceled them…who knows? If any reader knows of these missing numbers existing please contact us and send us pictures.
In addition, we know that several print runs must have been made of these poster cards since we have found at least eight variations in the info printed on the backs (206, 218, 219, 221, 222,223,224,225 ).
Type 1 then mysteriously picks up with 290850 through 290869 which were issued during the 1985 through 1987 time frame and include the first five Jordan posters which will be discussed in part 2 of this article. Why Nike jumped from 290249 to 290850 is currently unknown. Why Type 1 jumped over 290811 through 290849 (which were produced as types 2,3 and 4) is also unclear, but we have enough confirmed publication dates to be sure that this is chronologically accurate.
Type 2 poster cards are in the grouping 820 through 828 and with 14 between 290875 and 290898. These groups include several iconic posters like the Mark McGwire and Will Clark 1989 World Series posters, several Jordan posters, Agassi’s “Ace of Hearts”, Nolan Ryan’s “Texas Ranger”, and McEnroe’s “Rebel with a Cause”. There are currently 22 identified Type 2 poster cards with a few more unidentified numbers that could be Type 2’s.
As mentioned earlier, Type 3 poster cards were the last grouping produced and the largest group produced. We have currently identified 113 unique poster cards and eight that were originally printed as Type 1, 2 or 4 that were reprinted in 1990/91 as Type 3. An additional 20 or so Nike product numbers in these groupings ( 290828 – 290249 & 290889 – 291010) have yet to be identified. Iconic posters include Bo Jackson and Bo Diddley’s “Bo Knows Diddley”, David Robinsons “Rookie of the Year”, Gretzky and Howe in “Mr. Hockey and the Great One” and Scottie Pipen’s “Beam Me Up.”
Type 4 poster cards are found in two groupings; Seven cards between 290811 – 290817 and 12 between 290870 – 290887. They have been identified by their presence in Nike catalogs and order forms from the time period. Iconic posters include Mark Jackson’s “Hometown,” Howie Long’s “Lethal Weapon”, Andre Agassi’s “Ace of Hearts” and Anthony Carter’s “Serious Hang Time.”
Those of us who actively collect the Nike poster cards have been trying to compile a complete checklist for over 20 years. It is close enough to completion now that we are comfortable sharing it with the collecting community as the official Nike poster card checklist. Collectors including, Ron “Daytrader1122” Sevane, Bruce “ImaPacRat“ Fisher, Jeff Barrett and many others have contributed significantly to compiling this Master Checklist.
I have also created the web page “Nike Poster Cards (1982 – 1992) “ at the following location:
All checklists are being housed there as well a photos of every one of the poster cards that we have identified. It is hoped that this work will be completed in the next few months.
In part 2, we will focus on the Michael Jordan Nike Poster Cards 1982 – 1992.