How to Spot a Fake Michael Jordan Rookie Card and Not Get Scammed

How to Spot a Fake Michael Jordan Rookie Card and Not Get Scammed

The 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie card is one of the most sought-after cards in the entire hobby world. This should come as a surprise to no one. A perfect storm of circumstances took the Jordan rookie from popular basketball card to iconic collectible.

First, Michael Jordan is a superstar athlete that bridges old school and new school collectors. While new collectors might be aware of what previous greats have done, such as Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain, it is harder to appreciate their relevance due to low media exposure and the fact they they have not played basketball in so long. Michael Jordan is not simply a good basketball player. He is a worldwide celebrity with huge brand recognition and a legion of ravenous followers. Plus, there are those shoes you may have heard of over the years.

During the early 1980s, basketball cards in general were not that popular and 1986-87 Fleer was the first NBA product with full distribution since 1981-82 Topps. Although production numbers were not as large as other sports during the mid-to-late 80s, there are still many out there. Even today, the average collector with a few hundred dollars can still likely afford a low-grade Jordan rookie, while gem copies can push to the six figure mark.

Lastly, it is simply a good-looking card. The design has stood the test of time and it now defines that era of basketball cards. As the 1986-87 Fleer unopened case and box supply dries up, there is really only one direction for values to push.

Unfortunately, this strong value and popularity has resulted in an equally strong counterfeit market for Michael Jordan rookie cards. The wide variety in the quality of fakes can also cause problems. Some are so grainy and poorly done, that even a less-knowledgeable collector would know something was wrong. However, there are some some better quality fakes where only one or two things might be slightly off, and those are the most dangerous.

Collectors who prefer the safe route can eliminate the majority of the uncertainty by buying a Michael Jordan rookie card that has been authenticated and slabbed by a reputable grading service. These cards do come with a premium cost, that rises significantly based on condition, but you avoid the gnawing paranoia regarding the legitimacy of your purchase.

The other route can result in considerably lower costs, but also the potential that you might have missed one red flag or that you just bought the nicest fake in town. As a guide to collectors, we have compiled some key areas to inspect in order to determine the authenticity of a Michael Jordan rookie card. While there are no guarantees, this can be a useful aid if you are on the fence about a purchase. To properly evaluate these areas, it is best to have a magnifier of some kind. The most important things to remember are the two C's - Clarity and Color.



A quick glance at the images above shows how it can be confusing to decide whether a Michael Jordan rookie card is real or fake. While there are differences, even to the naked eye, only a very experienced collector could easily determine the authenticity of a Michael Jordan rookie card from a quick glance.


When looking at the front of the card, the first thing to pay attention to is the overall clarity. The clarity of the image, the clarity of the text, and the clarity of the colors. Sometimes, that is all it takes to immediately expose a fake. Just because this card is nearing 30 years old, does not mean that the photo should showcase a slight haze, like the fake above on the right. The text box at the bottom should feature cleanly printed text with a clear transition from the white text to the blue background, even under magnification.

Also, under magnification, the thin black line that parallels the yellow boarder should be solid and not pixelated at all. Another thing to note, the red, white and blue background colors should not overlap at all. Less telling, but still useful, the "Chicago" text on Jordan's jersey should be crisp and every letter should be legible. Make particular note to inspect the "i" and the "o."

The crown in the Fleer logo is another place to spend some time. Notice how much sharper the points are on the magnified authentic version, below on the left. The "FLEER" text also has a more balloon-ish quality on the fake on the right, and "PREMIER" isn't crisp.


The red, white and blue border on the real rookie card features distinct colors. Convincing fakes will be normally be a tad brighter or darker, and poor fakes will exhibit colors that are much different.

Another color element to look for is the arrow in the Fleer logo crown. The real version features a darker yellow/gold and is clearly a different color than the yellow text box. Most fakes will include the same color yellow in both the arrow and text box, but it is easy to trick yourself into thinking the colors are slightly different. The color difference is abundantly clear in an authentic version.



The issues on the back are a little more subtle since there are fewer colors and images, and the design is plain. However, there are still several key areas to check out in regards to clarity and color.


The first thing to check on the back of the card is the Chicago Bulls logo. With the real Bulls logo on the left, you are able to see the white around the eye, under magnification. On the fake, the ink around the eye bleeds together.

There are several other things that can signify a fake card. One is the the clarity of decimals in the stats, specifically the one in "27.2" average points. The decimal will be clear to the naked eye on the real version and nearly nonexistent on the fake. Also, the decimals listed in field goal percentage are generally very faint on the fakes. Next, the © symbol on the bottom left, in front of "1986 FLEER CORP," should be clearly legible. Likewise, the ® symbol in the top right near the Fleer logo should be easily read.

Lastly, the NBA Player logo in the bottom right should show a clear "NBA PLAYERS" in the middle of the ball, and "NATIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYERS ASSOCIATION," around the ball. Also, the logo itself is a basketball. With the real Michael Jordan rookie card, you should be able to see the faint lines that are indicative of a basketball. The fake version will normally have just a filled circle.


Again, color plays an important role on the back of the card, but since the color can vary from fake to fake, and it's mostly just various shades of pink and red, it is not something you can specifically point to as a rule. However, the back of the Michael Jordan rookie card that directly applies to color is the pink and red color blocks that take up the majority of the back. The real version appears more textured, while the fake looks more like a fully filled-in color.

Also, the white background has more of an off-white appearance on the real version, while many of the fakes exhibit more of a bright white color.

Another Option

Outside of these key areas, many people will suggest that you compare the card in question to a Michael Jordan rookie card that you know is authentic. And this is good advice. But most collectors don't have Michael Jordan rookies lying around, let alone in their pocket, for comparison. It does help to know the feel of a particular card. I'm not suggesting you pry open the slab and play with a Michael Jordan rookie card, but is good to know exactly what you are dealing with.

A good alternative to this is to buy a card of a no-name player from the 1986-87 Fleer Basketball set. Michael Jordan is really the only card with high counterfeit levels, and a common card can be had for a few dollars, depending on condition. This way, you know the stock, the weight, the gloss, the overall feel of the card. You will also have a good reference point for design comparison.

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Trey Treutel

E-Mail Author | 
Trey Treutel is an Ole Miss grad and a lifelong sports fanatic. He is a huge fan of the NBA and NFL, as well as soccer, college basketball and college football. As a kid, he collected football and basketball cards. In more recent years he started collecting basketball cards again on a whim and has since expanded to other sports and entertainment options. Find Trey on Twitter at @datreute or Google+.

User Comments

  1. I went to my local thrift shop and found a MJ rookie card in a magnetic case for $10. I thought I found a gold mine. I was so excited I was calling my wife and trying to figure out if we should grade and sell it or keep it for our kids. Now, I have been collecting cards for 20 years and the thought that it was fake never crossed my mind, but it was and all it took was a trip to my local Hobby shop to figure it out. DJ at DJ sports card in Renton Wa. looked at it for 5 seconds and told me the horrible truth that is was fake. I found out that day, if it is good to be true it is.

  2. yup, went to a tag sale, and in a box of graded Lebron James rookie cards, and Yao Ming rookies i found a dozen Michael Jordan rookies all looked and felt just fine, and the box looked like it hadn’t been touched since the mid ninetys but low an behold I sent one to get graded and it was bunk… bummer

  3. I have a Michael Jordan rookie card i wanna sell

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