The “Last Dance,” the 10-part ESPN documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ final championship team in 1997-1998, has rekindled interest in basketball during the coronavirus pandemic. Some of the major stars during that year are featured in what’s been one of the more underrated basketball card sets — 1988-1989 Fleer.
It’s easy to wax nostalgic over this set, which arrived during the first of two championship seasons for the rough and tumble Detroit Pistons.
It boasts one of the top crops of rookie cards. First-year cards of Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, John Stockton and Reggie Miller, along with debut cardboard for Mark Price, Mark Jackson, John Salley and Horace Grant make this one of the strongest sets around.
Baseball fans could point to the 1975 rookie class of George Brett, Robin Yount, Gary Carter, Jim Rice and Keith Hernandez, but Fleer’s 1988-1989 roundball set more than holds its own.
Plus, 1988-1989 Fleer contained Jordan’s third-year card, making the set very desirable. Jordan’s All-Star card is also a keeper, showing him flying to the rim during a dunk contest. His insert sticker has him in the familiar “tongue hanging out” mode.
Boxes contained 36 packs with 12 cards plus an insert sticker. In 2005, a sealed case of 12 boxes sold at auction for $4,575. Today, that might buy you a single box and a few extra packs.
As usual with Fleer basketball, there were 132 base cards in the set. The design contains a mishmash of different letter fonts. The player’s name, in the upper left-hand corner of the card, has a thin, artsy look to it. The Fleer logo on the opposite top corner is smaller but with a bold italic look. There is no consistency and it looks like the fonts were just tossed together.
The player’s position, tucked into the bottom right side of the card front is italicized. The team name is in the lower left-hand corner of the card front and can either be italicized or block letter. The card borders are dark in the middle and slowly get lighter toward the top and bottom. The inner frame of the card has rounded corners and the player’s team colors.
As usual, Fleer’s backs were simple, occupied by statistical information and the card number. The ’88-89 used a color scheme that’s kind of a mix of forest green, orange and salmon.
Forget the design. The players drive the set and there are 28 Hall of Famers among the 132 cards, not counting the All-Star cards at the tail end of the checklist. Collectors have been quick to get them graded, especially since the recent rise in basketball cards has driven prices higher.
According to PSA, there have been 75,709 1988-89 Fleer basketball cards submitted for authentication and grading. Not surprisingly, the Jordan base card (No. 17) has been graded the most times (12,648). Of those, 573 are PSA 10s.
The value of Pippen’s rookie card (No. 20) has shot up. Cards that used to sell in the $50 range in PSA 9 several weeks ago are now being bought for more than $500. And, there are more than 2,300 of PSA 9 Pippens out there, along with 217 PSA 10s. Rodman’s rookie card (No. 43) has also increased tenfold, leaping from $30 not long ago to more than $300 now. There are 198 PSA 10 cards of Rodman.
The added bonus of the 1988-1989 Fleer set was the 11-card sticker set; one sticker was inserted into every pack. Not surprisingly, the most coveted sticker is Jordan (No. 7). Other key sticker cards include Larry Bird (No. 2), Patrick Ewing (No. 5), Magic Johnson (No. 6), Karl Malone (No. 8) and Isiah Thomas (No. 10).
Collation was generally very good with Fleer, which meant a box typically yielded close to three complete sets.
After the 1988-1989 set, the mass productions of the junk wax era began. Topps, which had been out of the NBA for the latter half of the 1980s, returned with sets in the 1990s, along with newcomer Upper Deck.
It would take until 1996, when autograph cards and serial numbered cards were introduced, for basketball sets to become desirable. Still, there is something simple and charming about the early Fleer sets, and the 1988-1989 product is a good one to collect.
You can check out 1988-89 Fleer basketball singles, sets, lots and more on eBay here.