Michael Jordan brought grace, power, style and determination to pro basketball and led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles during his storied career.
So owning some rare Jordan cards could be as breathtaking as watching “His Airness” in action. For example, a 1986-87 Fleer rookie card of Jordan, graded a pristine 10 by Beckett Grading Service, fetched $100,000 in a 2011 “Own It Now” sale by California-based Memory Lane Inc.
But here’s a card that could challenge that lofty price, and it’s much harder to find. There are only 10 copies of the 1997-98 Fleer Metal Universe Precious Metals Gems Emerald Jordan (card No. 23), and Baseball Card Exchange, an online seller that also owns a shop in Schererville, Indiana, currently has the card with serial number 001 for sale on eBay. The card is being sold on consignment for Ramzi Zein of Orland Park, Illinois.
“It still gives me goosebumps thinking about pulling that card,” said Zein, 34, who works for his family’s pharmaceutical business in the Chicago suburbs and delivers prescription drugs to nursing homes.
The opening bid for the foil parallel, which debuted on Baseball Card Exchanges’ eBay page on July 23, was for — what else — $23,000. Since then, there have been dozens of bids, and the card was sitting at $90,200 late Thursday night. The auction is scheduled to close at 10 p.m. EDT on Sunday. But collectors who attend the 36th annual National Sports Collectors Convention that begins Wednesday in suburban Chicago can view the card at Baseball Card Exchange’s booth.
“There are some extreme Jordan collectors out there,” said Jimmy Bickel, who owns the Hot Corner Sports card shop in Berryville, Arkansas, and also runs Sports Card Arena, an online site for collectors. “Some have some really deep pockets.
“I would not be surprised to see that card reach six figures.”
“The guy had a couple of offers for as much as $120,000 from private collectors,” said Peter Kiefor, the retail manager for Baseball Card Exchange. “We told him that if he was being offered that much at the start, then the auction had a good chance to top that.”
Originally, Zein listed the card on his own eBay account for 99 cents — no joke (“I’m not stupid, I knew it was the card to pull”) — and he was overwhelmed by the response.
“My phone died twice with all the messages,” he said. “It was non-stop. Two guys called me up and said they would fly out to pick it up. The first guy offered $125,000 and the second one offered $150,000.”
Back on eBay, bidding had pushed the price to $15,000 within a day. It had reached $78,000 and had 387 watchers when Zein, miffed by Internet board posters questioning the card’s authenticity, canceled the auction and decided to send the card to PSA. The card is now slabbed, but has no grade — it’s merely marked as authentic. Because the card front is foil, it is susceptible to imperfections and wear. This particular card has chipping on the edges and corners.
“This card was kind of like the 1993 SP Derek Jeter (rookie card),” said Kiefor, who thought the card probably would have graded out at PSA-7 or PSA-8. “As soon as you get it out of the pack, there is chipping. This one (Jordan card) went right from the pack to a protective case.”
And right to a safe.
Precious Metal Gems were foil base parallels for 1997-98 Metal Universe and were limited to 100 per player. Ninety of them were red and the remaining 10 were emerald green.
Baseball Exchange’s owners believe this card will top the highest price ever paid for a Jordan card, and hope it can challenge for the most expensive basketball card in history — a George Mikan rookie card from the 1948-49 Bowman set, graded in gem mint condition (PSA-10). That card sold for $218,500 (including a 17.5 percent buyer’s premium) in December 2009, also by Memory Lane, in its Hidden Treasures auction.
The Mikan RC is the only gem mint graded card of the Hall of Fame center, and only four have been graded at PSA-9.
The story behind the Jordan card is an interesting one of discovery and elation. Zein, who collected basketball cards as a youth, got back into the hobby in 2011 and targeted the 1997-98 Fleer Metal Universe set.
“I was ready to drop $2,000 for a box, and my wife (Liz) gave me that ‘wife look’,'” he laughed.
Last November, Zein won a box for $800 in an eBay auction and then messaged the seller to see if he had any more. He did, so Zein bought a second one for another $800.
“They weren’t meant for me to open,” he said. “I wanted to sit on them for 10 to 15 years. But as soon as they came, the kid inside me said ‘open them up.”
It was a fruitless effort. “Some cheap inserts,” Zein said.
Still searching, Zein won an eBay “Buy It Now” auction for another box of Fleer Metal Universe for $950. No pretense about saving this box.
“It didn’t last five minutes before I opened it,” he laughed.
But again, nothing notable. But when the “buy it now” auction seller messaged him about having two more boxes for sale, Zein jumped at the chance. He now had invested nearly $5,000 and had little to show for it. Now, he was opening two more boxes, rather than saving them.
“I was so angry, because I was saying to myself, ‘hold on to these for three or four years,'” Zein said. “I took a really big gamble.”
And finally hit the jackpot.
“Four or five packs into the box I saw a card that was backwards. But I still did the slow roll,” he said. “I see (card number) 23 and I see the Bulls logo and then say oh my God. No way I hit a red PMG Jordan.”
Then he saw the serial number oo1 and realized he didn’t have a red insert. He turned it over (“still doing the slow roll”) and realized he had an emerald PMG.
“I got numb in the face. It was one in a million,” Zein said. “It’s so crazy.”
“He called us right away,” Kiefor said. “We were trying to figure it out. We were asking him ‘what’s it look like, what’s (Jordan) doing in the picture?'” Kiefor said, noting that the card shop owners were trying to be certain this wasn’t a different card.
Finally Zein traveled the 30 minutes to the card shop, and the two parties struck a deal. The card now resides in a safe. Kiefor would not say what percentage Baseball Card Exchange would be taking on the consignment, although he did concede that less than a 10 percent cut “would be in the ballpark.” Zein admitted that the percentage was closer to five percent.
“We’re not taking much,” Kiefor said. “He’s just a regular guy.”
Zein might be a regular guy, but there is no question that Michael Jordan, even in retirement, remains a special guy to collectors.
“I still think he’s the most collectible player of all sports,” Kiefor said. “You talk about Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, but they’re not big in China or France.
“But everybody knows Michael Jordan.”
Baseball Card Exchange has been in business since owner Steve Hart opened a corner shop in Lansing, Illinois, in 1990. Kiefor said the Jordan card could be the company’s highest-seller in terms of cash.
“This is the highest one I can think of. We’ve had five figures before, like a Wilt Chamberlain rookie card graded a 9,” Kiefor said. “We’ve seen a lot, we don’t get excited a lot. We got super excited about this one.”
Opening those last two boxes justified Zein’s investment.
“There is a chance it could top the Mikan card,” Kiefor said. “We’ve been pleased with the bidding and the quality of the bidders. The card could hit a quarter million. That would be insane.”
No matter what the final price is, Zein, a lifelong Chicago Bulls fan whose favorite player was not Jordan, but Grant Hill, said he would spend the money judiciously. His wife Liz, 11-year-old Azmi, 3-year-old Zainah and newborn Malik, defnitely will benefit. So will other family members.
“I’ll buy my mother something,” he said. “Then save the rest for a rainy day. I don’t want to be reckless.”
Zein is no stranger to expensive cards (“If it’s high end, I’ll give it a shot”), but other than his son pulling a Tracy McGrady autograph Logoman numbered to five from 2013-14 Panini National Treasures, nothing comes close to the Jordan card.
“I don’t think I can top this one,” he said.