The Investment Case for the 1989-1990 Hoops Michael Jordan #200 Basketball Card
publication date: May 15, 2021
author/source: Brian Nelson, CFA
Image Shown: 1989-1990 Hoops Michael Jordan #200.
On February 12, 2021, a sealed case of 20 boxes of 1989-1990 Series 1 Hoops Basketball cards sold on eBay for ~$5,999. 36 packs x 15 cards per pack = 540 cards per box. 10,800 cards in the case.
By Brian Nelson, CFA
After I put together a video on the roaring basketball card market, I received a few questions on which basketball card I thought was the most undervalued in today’s market. The interest is understandable given news that a Lebron James rookie card recently sold for $5.2 million, a Luka Doncic card sold for $4.6 million, and a Kobe Bryant rookie refractor sold for $1.8 million.
First of all, I am far from an expert in this field, but I thought it would be a useful exercise to apply my analytical and research skills to assess whether there might be undervalued opportunities. Importantly, it’s worth noting that basketball cards, even the coveted Lebron James rookie that just sold for $5.2 million, are assets that do not generate free cash flow to the owner, and therefore, are only worth what the next person will pay for it. They are “greater fool” assets, perhaps as much as fine art or fine wine, for example.
With this risk clearly noted, I believe the most undervalued basketball card in today’s market is the 1989-1990 Hoops Michael Jordan #200, which currently books for just $6-$15, as of the May 2021 edition of Beckett magazine. In full disclosure, I have added a number of these to my collection during the past couple weeks. The following represents my investment thesis, a first when it comes to basketball cards, and please feel free to add in the notes section where my thesis may be lacking.
Hoops Marks a “Seminal Moment in the Trading Card Hobby”
Those that grew up in the 1980s, inspired by stories of the value of Mickey Mantle’s rookie card and Honus Wagner’s T206 card, were enamored with baseball cards. Many call the era of sports card collecting between 1987-1993 or so the “junk wax” era, where there are estimated to be as many as 3.5 million or more of each baseball card produced each year (e.g. 1988 Topps and 1989 Topps, in particular).
To my knowledge, baseball card manufacturers didn’t disclose the exact number of boxes they produced, but it was a lot. A recent Netflix documentary, Jack of All Trades, showed just how much the baseball card market was oversupplied during this time, especially the 1989 Ken Griffey, Jr. Upper Deck baseball rookie card that may have defined the era. Many of the common player baseball cards from this era remain worthless, though some rated GEM – MT 10 by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) or Beckett Grading Services (BGS) may sell for a couple hundred dollars.
From what I can tell, the basketball card hobby, however, had a much different make-up than the baseball card hobby during much of the 1980s. While many were stowing away their now-worthless 1988 Donruss baseball cards in plastic sleeves to sell in retirement, even by late 1988, collectors could reportedly buy a 1986-1987 Michael Jordan Fleer rookie card for just $5. This all would change in 1989 as basketball would become more popular due in part to the popularity of Michael Jordan and a number of new rookies entering the league. Now averaging ~$30,000 in GEM – MT 10 condition at auction at the time of this writing, Michael Jordan’s 1986-1987 Fleer rookie card surged to $50 in 1989.
By the end of the 1980s thanks in part to appreciating card values from the 1986-1997 Fleer set, basketball card collecting was off to the races. The new kid on the block to compete with card-maker Fleer for the 1989-1990 collecting season was NBA-licensed Hoops, which established a number of firsts in the card collecting industry. Sports Collectors Daily would call the release of the 1989-1990 Hoops basketball set a “seminal moment in the trading card hobby,” and from the looks of it, it’s hard to disagree with the set’s novel design elements and features. In addition to eye-appeal, this set has historical significance.
According to Cardboard History, the 1989-1990 NBA Hoops set “was the first NBA set with two series, the first set with a full color photo of the player on the cardback, the first set to show team logos in color on cardback, the first set to include coach cards, and the first set to offer updates on players who changed teams. The 1989-1990 Hoops vintage was also “the largest set (with more than 350 different cards) ever produced for the sport at the time, the first set to offer promos, the first set with a planned variation, the first card set issued by the sport it covers, and the first set to include corrections of errors.”
That’s a lot of firsts.
There Are 200,000 Michael Jordan 1986-1987 Fleer Rookie Cards?
Based on my research, basketball card collecting during the mid-1980s wasn’t nearly as large as that of baseball. The basketball card industry at the time had one brand of cards called Star, after Topps ended its agreement with the NBA in 1982. According to Wikipedia, Star had a print run of each of its cards “at or below 5,000 cards” during the three years it produced basketball cards (1983-1984, 1984-1985, and 1985-1986).
Star cards were unusual because they were sold by team in transparent plastic bags (“polybags”) and weren’t distributed by typical means, with many parts of the U.S. going underserved. Though Star included Michael Jordan in its sets beginning in 1984-1985, the hobby doesn’t recognize Star cards as the official rookie card of Michael Jordan (they are considered “extended rookie cards” --XRC), and counterfeiting has traditionally been a problem, though PSA and BGS have helped to assuage concerns in this area.
Fleer came onto the scene in 1986-1987 taking the reigns from Star and became the only provider of mainstream basketball cards beginning that year. According to some estimates, Fleer had a print run of each card of 150,000-200,000 in 1986-1987 and due to reported dwindling interest at the time, a print run of each card of 100,000 in 1987-1988.
I think the following is worth emphasizing: There are 150,000-200,000 Michael Jordan Fleer rookies (1986-1987) and 100,000 Michael Jordan second year (1987-1988) Fleer cards estimated to have been produced. It seems these cards garner high price tags in today’s market, not necessarily due to their scarcity, but rather from the demand for them. Many may believe that there are only a handful of Michael Jordan Fleer rookies out there and very limited supply, but this does not appear to be the case.
For example, there are still unopened packs from this set, and in August 2020, a case of 1986-1987 Fleer basketball cards containing 12 boxes of 432 packs (each containing 12 cards and 1 sticker) sold for ~$1.8 million. According to Sports Collectors Daily, there might be more than 36 “fresh” Michael Jordan rookie cards in this case alone, and this number doesn’t include a potentially similar amount of Jordan rookie stickers. Michael Jordan’s Fleer rookie card is far more abundant than many collectors believe. The card is expensive, but not necessarily scarce.
Based on preliminary research, a reliable estimate could not be found for the production run of each card for the 1988-1989 Fleer set, but due to the growing popularity of basketball in 1989 and that Fleer was still the only basketball card maker at the time, a production run likely greater than the 1986-1987 Fleer year is to be assumed for the 1988-1989 set. However, I would classify this as a best “guestimate,” as again, card makers did not necessarily disclose production numbers, to my knowledge.
Basketball Card Collecting Comes of Age
The 1989-1990 basketball season brought more basketball card choices for collectors due to the competition between Fleer and new entrant Hoops. As with the production runs of each card for the 1988-1989 Fleer set, there isn’t a good estimate for how many of each card were produced from Fleer and Hoops during this season. Most industry observers agree, however, that 1989-1990 was the year where print runs increased substantially for basketball cards but estimate ranges cannot easily be found.
Print runs for baseball cards around this time are estimated in the millions per card, but there are no verifiable numbers for the 1989-1990 NBA Hoops set. In fact, there is not much information available on the web regarding this set, other than it being (unjustifiably, in my view) lumped into the “junk wax” era of sports card collecting. I do not believe the production numbers per card for the 1989-1990 NBA Hoops set are as bad as baseball’s during the same time (basketball was a smaller hobby market), and I believe they are much better than basketball in the years that immediately followed.
As with the Fleer basketball card sets, there are still unopened boxes of 1989-1990 Hoops available for sale (as in the recent sale of a case of 20 boxes for ~$5,999 noted above), but again, this isn’t unusual. Unlike the hefty price tags for the Fleer basketball packs of prior years, packs of 15 1989-1990 Hoops cards can generally be purchased on eBay for $10-$15 as of the time of this writing, while 1989-1990 boxes in pretty bad shape (36 packs) can be purchased for ~$125-~$175. A factory sealed box in good condition of 1989-1990 Hoops may run about $300 based on my latest observations.
In its first year on the grand stage of basketball cards, Hoops offered Series I cards in its Series II boxes (which added to supply), but based on videos of box openings on YouTube, there may be, on average, 3-4 1989-1990 Hoops Michael Jordan #200 per Series I box and perhaps fewer per Series II box. This seems consistent with the number of Michael Jordan cards per box of Fleer through its reign in the late 1980s, though I can only substantiate this with data from the 1986-1987 Fleer basketball set, per above. Note that the Michael Jordan 1989-1990 Hoops card referenced in this article is #200. Hoops also made an All-Star card of Michael Jordan in this set as well.
Many basketball card collectors in the late 1980s were enamored with the David Robinson 1989-1990 Hoops rookie card, which was not available in Fleer that year, and many (bought) and may still be buying the 1989-1990 Hoops basketball cards solely for a GEM – MT 10 condition rookie card of David Robinson (which averages around $400-$600 in auction at the time of this writing), while not giving the iconic base card of one of the game’s best Michael Jordan (#200) in one of the industry’s most influential sets a fair shake.
Hence, I think there’s a potential mispricing.
Skeptical that the 1989-1990 Hoops Set Is Truly “Junk Wax”
Some of today’s collectors may point to the 1996-1997 Topps basketball set and the Kobe Bryant rookie card, which books for $600 at the high end as of the May 2021 edition of Beckett, as staples of the modern basketball card industry, but when it comes to historical significance of modern-day basketball card collecting, it is the 1989-1990 Hoops set that set the stage. For history buffs like me, this means something.
In my view, it wasn’t until the next year 1990-1991 that I believe overproduction of basketball cards truly began to ramp, and many more variations of cards of players were made available. The 1990-1991 season would introduce another competitor to the mix of basketball cards in Skybox. Anecdotally, where one might have 4 of the 1990-1991 Hoops vintage Michael Jordan cards and a handful of 1990-1991 Skybox in a collection that were pulled from packs when they were released, a person might have one 1989-1990 Hoops Michael Jordan (#200) likely bought at a card shop 25-30 years ago. At least, this was my situation before uncovering this potential opportunity.
Basketball card overproduction would get worse in the years that followed the 1990-1991 season. Upper Deck would join the party in 1991-1992, and then Stadium Club, Topps, and Ultra would enter the fray in 1992-1993. The years around Shaquille O’Neal’s entrance into the NBA in 1992-1993 likely marked the pinnacle of overproduction issues with respect to basketball cards, at least based on my experience and observation. According to some, baseball card overproduction started long before basketball’s (1981-1993 seem to be baseball’s most overproduced years, with the latter half being the worst).
Though the 1989-1990 Hoops Michael Jordan #200 is not rare by today’s standards--and perceived to be less desirable as that of the Fleer cards before it (despite its historical significance)--I do not believe the set fits within the “junk wax” era either, where each baseball card in the late 1980s and early 1990s had print runs in the multi-millions. In support of this view, a 1988 Donruss baseball wax box can be purchased for about $10 as of May 2021, while the 1989-1990 Hoops boxes, on the other hand, can go for 15-30 times this amount. This suggests material differentiation between “junk wax” baseball cards and more collectible modern-era basketball cards of similar years.
As in the case of the 1986-1987 Michael Jordan Fleer rookie card, which continue to be pulled “fresh” from unopened packs, an equally important part of the price-setting mechanism is the demand profile of the card, not just its scarcity (grading is also a key ingredient, especially given the large gaps in prices between NM – MT 8 and GEM – MT 10 of the same card). As Hoops’ first year is a big “year of firsts” in the basketball card-collecting history, the 30+ year old 1989-1990 Hoops Michael Jordan #200 marks one of the game’s all-time greatest players in one of the industry’s most iconic and influential sets for the modern-day era.
It’s hard to overlook this significance.
What Is a Fair Price for the 1989-1990 Hoops Michael Jordan #200?
In my view, this card should be worth no less than $25-$50 in fair ungraded condition, $200-$500 in authenticated NM - MT 8 condition (PSA or BGS), and no less than $1,000 in authenticated (PSA or BGS) mint 9 or gem-mint 10 condition. However, let me go through a comp analysis to offer some more perspective because my views are clearly biased by 1) the historical significance of the 1989-1990 Hoops set, 2) that Michael Jordan is one of the game’s greatest players in history, and that 3) I now own quite a few of this vintage because of the first two reasons.
The closest comp, by year, to the 1989-1990 Hoops Michael Jordan #200 is the same year’s Fleer card, which is valued by Beckett at $60 at the high end based on May 2021 edition of the price guide. The 1989-1990 Hoops Michael Jordan (#200) books for a mere fraction of that ($15 at the high end). One PSA 9 1989-1990 Fleer Michael Jordan averages ~$100 at auction, while one PSA 9 1989-1990 Hoops Michael Jordan averages ~$50 at auction, as of May 2021. In light of Hoops’ groundbreaking firsts in the basketball card hobby, the base card of one of the best players ever in basketball in that set seems mispriced compared to Michael Jordan’s fourth-year Fleer card of the same year.
The closest reasonable comps, by player, to Michael Jordan are Kobe Bryant and Lebron James on the basis of general popularity, status, basketball style/statistics, and impact on the game. According to Sports Collectors Daily, the 1996-1997 Hoops Kobe Bryant, his rookie card but also his first-year Hoops card, is “plentiful,” but yet it still books for $60 at the high end of Beckett’s May 2021 edition. One PSA 9 1996-1997 Hoops Kobe Bryant averages ~$220 at auction, as of May 2021. Unlike in the 1989-1990 season, where there were just four variant Michael Jordan cards produced that year (two from Fleer, two from Hoops), there were numerous variants of Kobe Bryant cards and inserts coming from Bowman’s Best, E-X2000, Finest, Flair, Fleer, Metal, Skybox, Stadium Club, Topps, Topps Chrome, Ultra, Upper Deck, and Z-Force.
For basketball card collectors, the 1996-1997 vintage had a large selection of Kobe Bryant cards, yet his “plentiful” inaugural Hoops version still books for four times that of Michael’s Jordan’s inaugural Hoops version. In general, rookie cards are more sought-after, but in many respects, the inaugural 1989-1990 Hoops vintage marked the beginning of so much of what we see in basketball cards today. The 1989-1990 Hoops Michael Jordan #200 appears mispriced, with both Kobe Bryant and the 1989-1990 Hoops set, more generally, both in their “rookie” seasons of card production.
Nearly 25 years after Michael Jordan’s first appearance on a Hoops card, Lebron James graced the brand. The 2003-2004 Hoops Hot Prospects Lebron James (#300) books for $800 at the high end according to the May 2021 edition of Beckett. Lebron James’ Topps rookie card from 2003-2004 books at $1,200 at the high end of the range, while Kobe Bryant’s sixth-year base Topps card books for $50 at the high end of the range, both according to the May 2021 edition of Beckett.
The number of basketball card variants of Lebron James and Kobe Bryant for the 2003-2004 season are too many to count, but to put this in perspective, within the May edition of the 2021 Beckett, the 1989-1990 Hoops set takes up less than one half of one column of the seven columns on the page. The number of card prices for the 2003-2004 season, however, take up as many as 7-8 total pages, or about 52 columns, with what looks to be dozens of Lebron James and Kobe Bryant cards scattered about to choose from. Lebron James and Kobe Bryant cards from the former's rookie season hardly seem rare, but they still garner lofty price tags.
 May 2021 edition of Beckett Basketball
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Brian Nelson owns shares in SPY, SCHG, QQQ, DIA, VOT, and IWM. Brian Nelson's household owns shares in HON, DIS, HAS. Some of the other securities written about in this article may be included in Valuentum's simulated newsletter portfolios. Contact Valuentum for more information about its editorial policies.
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