The 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie card is one of the most recognizable and sought-after cards in the hobby. While other cards from this decade have plummeted in value, the Jordan rookie has soared, with high end examples selling for over $20,000. Due to its popularity, unfortunately the Jordan rookie is the most counterfeited card in the hobby. This exhaustive guide was created to help educate collectors and navigate the waters to buying this iconic card with confidence.
1986 Fleer Michael Jordan Front
1986 Fleer Michael Jordan Back
1. Fleer Logo
The Fleer logo in the upper right corner should be the first thing inspected on any Jordan rookie card. It is usually the easiest way to spot and fake and contains numerous indicators. On an authentic Jordan rookie, the yellow arrow will be a darker shade of yellow, almost a golden color. Many counterfeits show the logo and arrow as the same shade of yellow. Below is a side-by-side comparison of an authentic card and counterfeit. The counterfeit is shown on the right.
Another thing to check on the yellow arrow is its location on the yellow “PREMIER” banner. On an authentic example, the tip of the yellow arrow should not reach the top of “PREMIER” banner, but rather should have a small gap. On some of the counterfeits, this arrow will extend pass the top of the “PREMIER” banner. Below is a side-by-side comparison of an authentic card and counterfeit. The counterfeit is shown on the right.
The “FLEER” font will often be slightly different on counterfeits and authentic cards. On an authentic card, the “FLEER” font will have sharp square corners while the counterfeit will have a slightly “fatter” look and have rounded letters. The vertical alignment of “FLEER” and “PREMIER” is another item to examine. On the authentic version the “F” and “P” should be nearly perfectly aligned on the left edge, while the counterfeit example will have “Fleer” slightly indented to the right. Both indicators can be seen on the above example.
2. Red/Blue Transition
There should be a very distinct transition between colors between the blue and red. The counterfeits commonly show a “fuzzy” transition. Below is a high-resolution scan of an authentic card.
3. Black Border
The black border should be solid black ink. On the reprints, under magnification, this line will not be solid, but rather made up of small dots or pixels. Below is a high-resolution scan of an authentic card.
The word “Chicago” should be seen clearly. On the reprints, this is usually fuzzy and unclear. Below is a high-resolution scan of an authentic card.
On the nameplate, there should be clear distinction between the background color (light blue) and the white font for Jordan’s name. The reprint will usually have a “fuzzy” transition. Below is a high-resolution scan of an authentic card.
6. Registered Trademark Symbol
The “R” logo should be clearly distinguishable. On the reprints, it is not printed clearly. Below is a high-resolution scan of an authentic card.
7. Bulls Logo
The lines in the eyes of the bull should be separate and cleanly printed. On the reprints, the detail in the eyes is very poor. Below is a high-resolution scan of an authentic card.
8. Copyright Symbol
The “C” logo should be clearly distinguishable. On the reprints, it is not printed clearly. Below is a high-resolution scan of an authentic card.
9. Basketball Logo
The lines inside the basketball on the NBA logo should be visible. On the reprints, the ball is typically solid ink. Below is a high-resolution scan of an authentic card.
10. Scoring Average "27.2"
There should be a period between the 27 and 2. This is missing on many reprints. Below is a high-resolution scan of an authentic card.
11. Bottom Border
The lower half of the card should be a darker pink color. The reprints have a very light pink, almost peach color. Below is a high-resolution scan of an authentic card.
Detecting a Counterfeit - Graded
As the hobby moves into the future, very seldom are high profile cards sold ungraded, but rather are sold entombed in a tamper-proof holder from a third-party grader (TPG). The most well-known TPGs are PSA, Beckett, and SGC. PSA is the most well-known TGP and is a market leader. In the past, one could feel relatively safe when buying a graded card; that what they were buying was authentic and not altered. However, when it comes to high dollar cards, that is no longer the case. Counterfeiters have figured out how to compromise the holders by opening them, swapping out the cards or flips and resealing the holders again. The holders that are most commonly targeted are from PSA, which will be the focus of this guide. In the past years, PSA has made changes to their holders to prevent or minimize the fraud, but the older holders are still at risk. When examining a graded card, three things need to be examined – the card, the holder, and the flip (label). Since we’ve already covered the card in the previous section, we discuss the holder and the flip in this section.
When a card gets sent to a TPG (third-party grader), they will assign a grade to the card and then entomb the card into a tamper proof case that is sealed via a sonic welding process. If the case is ever pried open, it will cause the edges of the holder to cloud up or “frost”. Here is an example of 1952 Topps Mantle that was opened on the right side and had a counterfeit example inserted. Note the frosting along the right edge as well as frosting on the top-right and bottom-right.
Prior to 2013, PSA used a holder that was made up of two equally sized halves and joined by a sonic welding process. In 2013, PSA redesigned their holders to have two unequally sized halves, where one half would fit inside the other half before they were welded, creating a much more secure seal similar to the holder of Beckett. The newer style holder is much more secure and all cases of tampering that I’ve seen have been limited to the old-style holder.
In addition to frosting, another thing to check on a holder are the security nubs directly below the flip. If a holder has been tampered with, the security nub will mushroom out. Below is a picture showing illustrating this:
PSA Flip Comparison
Another method to detect a counterfeit graded 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan is by examining the label or “flip” of the card. When these counterfeits are “produced”, the counterfeiter is cracking open a legitimate PSA holder, re-inserting a lower grade or counterfeit card and new homemade flip. The homemade flips will often contain the same certification number, barcode and grade, so simply checking the PSA database will not help in determining authenticity of the graded “card”. However, the homemade flips typically utilize very similar, yet slightly different fonts, character spacing and alignment than a PSA generated flip. By comparing these flip attributes to known good flips, one can also determine whether the graded card is counterfeit.
One important thing to point out is that PSA has gone through several generations of flips, so it is important to compare same generation flips to draw accurate conclusions. Here is a brief history of the PSA flip that can be used as a guide, summarized from a Net54 thread.
Generation 1 Flip
- Original PSA flip used from 1991-1992
- The zeros have slashes
- The barcode is longer than future gens
- The hologram is bonded on the outside, but is not a sticker
- The PSA logo is bonded on the outside
Generation 2 Flip
- Used from 1992-1999
- The slashes have been removed from the zeros
- The barcode has been shortened and centered
- The hologram is now bonded on the inside, not on the outside
- The PSA logo remains bonded on the outside
- The PSA logo appears on the bottom right of the slab
Generation 3 Flip
- The hologram has changed from “PSA” to “COLLECTOR’S UNIVERSE”
Generation 4 Flip
- The barcode is now aligned to the left, not the center
- The font numbers have been shortened
- The font letters are wider and rounder
- The grade positioning is to the left and not aligned to the right
- No changes were made to the back
Generation 5 Flip
- Rarely found flip
- Font style similar to generation 2 & 3
- Grade alignment changed back to right
- Red border changed to remove rounded corners
- Hologram removed
- PSA logo changed and now bonded to the inside of the holder
- A lighter blue was used for the back of the flip
Generation 6 Flip
- Font identical to generation 5
- The back of the flip is a much darker blue
- The back text has changed from “A COLLECTOR’S UNIVERSE COMPANY” to “A DIVISION OF COLLECTOR’S UNIVERSE NASDAQ CLCT”
- The PSA logo on the back is the same as generation 5
- A small number of these flips may contain half grades
Generation 7 Flip
- PSA introduces the half grade system
- The grade number is now located beneath grade description
- No changes to the back of the flip
Generation 8 Flip
- The PSA logo and “A DIVISION OF COLLECTOR’S UNIVERSE NASDAQ: CLCT” still remain but now are holographic
- A new security hologram is placed on the front of the flip
Generation 9 Flip
- The cert number and barcode are placed on the back of the flip
Generation 10 Flip
- The security hologram is replaced on the front with new lighthouse
- On the back, the “A DIVISION OF COLLECTOR’S UNIVERSE NASDAQ: CLCT” has been replaced with a QR code.
- The PSA logo on the back has changed
- The lighthouse also appears on the back of the flip
PSA Flip/Label Light Test
Another method to inspect flips is by shining a strong light through it. Here is an example of 1977 Topps Chip Lang flip that was modified for a counterfeit 1981 Topps Joe Montana RC PSA 10.
Examples of the 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan Counterfeit
- Notice the overall “graininess” to the front of the card.
- The fleer logo and arrow are same color.
- There is a fuzzy transition on the nameplate between the background color and white lettering.
- The lines in the bull’s eyes are not distinguishable.
- The period is missing between the 27 and 2.
- The lines in the basketball for the NBA logo are missing. The ball is solid blue ink.
- The overall colors on the front are very dark.
- The background color on the nameplate is a shade of blue too dark. It should be a light blue.
- The fleer logo and arrow are both the same color. The arrow should be darker.
- The font used for “Michael Jordan” is different and spaced too far apart.
Here is a graded example that was sold on eBay. At first glance, everything seems to look ok, until you closely inspect the Fleer logo in the upper right corner. On this card, the tip of the yellow arrow is extending above the “PREMIER” banner, while an authentic card will have a small gap between the tip of the arrow and the banner. Below is a scan of the authentic card with the same certification number.
This example is an interesting one. This has the exact same issue as Example 1, but this example is in the new PSA holder and has the lighthouse label, which has proven to be very secure to date. Thankfully, this case was not tampered with, but unfortunately made its way through PSA undetected and was graded as PSA 9. This goes to show that even the experts occasionally get it wrong.
As the hobby moves into the future, very seldom are high profile cards sold ungraded, but rather are sold entombed in a tamper-proof holder from a third party grader (TPG). The most well known TPGs are PSA, Beckett, and SGC. PSA is the most well known TGP and has a majority of the market share. In the past, one could feel relatively safe when buying a graded card that what they were buying was authentic and not altered. However, when it comes to high dollar cards, that is no longer the case. Counterfeiters have figured out how to compromise the holders by opening them, swapping out the cards or flips and resealing the holders again. The holders that are most commonly targeted are from PSA. In the past years, PSA has made changes to their holders to prevent or minimize the fraud, but the older holders are still at risk. I have written an extensive article to better understand this and steps you can take to prevent being a victim of fraud. Here is a link to the article.
In regards to the Jordan rookie, many of the new counterfeits that are coming out of Mexico are very difficult to detect via picture or scan. Now with the prices of PSA 8s and 9s rising substantially, seeing counterfeit cards placed in PSA 8 and 9 holders will become more common. Here is a picture of some counterfeit cards that were shared by the counterfeiter based out of Mexico.
The goal of this guide was to not scare collectors away from buying a 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan, rather to educate them to avoid falling victim to buying a counterfeit. Collectors are always looking for a good deal, but hopefully the point was made that when it comes to marquee cards, bargain shopping should be avoided. If you’re in the market for Jordan, I’d suggest only purchasing from reputable auction houses and dealers. The only holder and flip that I’ve yet to see successfully compromised is the PSA generation 10 lighthouse label. If you still have doubts or don’t feel qualified to judge authenticity of the 1986 Fleer Jordan, I’d recommend that you only buy an example that is in this holder. The hobby is meant to be enjoyed but can be devastating if you fall victim to these crimes. Educate yourself and never get cheated.