1986 Fleer Basketball Wax Packs: Unlocking The Sequence

1986 fleer packI’ve covered the Jordan rookie card quite extensively, both from an authenticity standpoint (here, here and here) along with the investment side of investing in the card (here and here).

We’ve spoken about unopened vintage wax packs on the blog, but I have recently become slightly obsessed with vintage basketball packs.  Knowing that a 30+ year old pack that once sold for no more than 50 cents could hold a treasure worth in the multiple thousands is fascinating to say the least.

I was buying ’86 fleer packs as a kid, and never did I realize that I should have had my parent’s mortgaging their house to buy every single 1986 Fleer case in existence to hold for 35 years. 

I purchased a couple of unopened 86 Fleer packs a few years back on eBay before I became more knowledgeable on packs, and know I likely bought some resealed packs.   I’ve also been a part of a few 1986 Fleer pack breaks, one of which a Jordan rookie card was pulled (not my spot unfortunately).  

When I learned about the 1986 Fleer sequence, I became slightly obsessed with the topic, wondering if a) it might be possible to identify what packs actually hold a Jordan rookie card and b) if those packs could still be found available for sale at a discount.

Thus, this post will discuss 1986 Fleer packs in detail–both the numerical sequencing and the investment case for unopened 1986 Fleer basketball wax packs. 

Reviewing The 1986 Fleer Basketball Set

There are 132 cards in the '86 Fleer set, with an additional 11 stickers.  We've provide the full checklist for reference along with a printable checklist.  You might notice that the set  is ordered alphabetically by the player's last name. 

1986 Fleer Basketball Checklist

1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - Los Angeles Lakers
2 Alvan Adams - Phoenix Suns
3 Mark Aguirre - Dallas Mavericks (Rookie Card)
4 Danny Ainge - Boston Celtics (Rookie Card)
5 John Bagley - Cleveland Cavaliers (Rookie Card)
6 Thurl Bailey - Utah Jazz (Rookie Card)
7 Charles Barkley - Philadelphia 76ers (Rookie Card)
8 Benoit Benjamin - Los Angeles Clippers  (Rookie Card)
9 Larry Bird - Boston Celtics
10 Otis Birdsong - New Jersey Nets
11 Rolando Blackman - Dallas Mavericks (Rookie Card)
12 Manute Bol - Washington Bullets (Rookie Card)
13 Sam Bowie - Portland Trail Blazers (Rookie Card)
14 Joe Barry Carroll - Golden State Warriors
15 Tom Chambers - Seattle SuperSonics (Rookie Card)
16 Maurice Cheeks - Philadelphia 76ers
17 Michael Cooper - Los Angeles Lakers
18 Wayne Cooper - Denver Nuggets
19 Pat Cummings - New York Knicks (Rookie Card)
20 Terry Cummings - Milwaukee Bucks (Rookie Card)
21 Adrian Dantley - Utah Jazz
22 Brad Davis - Dallas Mavericks (Rookie Card)
23 Walter Davis - Phoenix Suns
24 Darryl Dawkins - New Jersey Nets
25 Larry Drew - Sacramento Kings (Rookie Card)
26 Clyde Drexler - Portland Trail Blazers (Rookie Card)
27 Joe Dumars - Detroit Pistons (Rookie Card)
28 Mark Eaton - Utah Jazz (Rookie Card)
29 James Edwards - Phoenix Suns
30 Alex English - Denver Nuggets
31 Julius Erving - Philadelphia 76ers
32 Patrick Ewing - New York Knicks (Rookie Card)
33 Vern Fleming - Indiana Pacers (Rookie Card)
34 Sleepy Floyd - Golden State Warriors (Rookie Card)
35 World B. Free - Cleveland Cavaliers
36 George Gervin - Chicago Bulls
37 Artis Gilmore - San Antonio Spurs
38 Mike Gminski - New Jersey Nets
39 Rickey Green - Utah Jazz
40 Sidney Green - Chicago Bulls (Rookie Card)
41 Dave Greenwood - San Antonio Spurs
42 Darrell Griffith - Utah Jazz
43 Bill Hanzlik - Denver Nuggets
44 Derek Harper - Dallas Mavericks (Rookie Card)
45 Gerald Henderson - Seattle Supersonics
46 Roy Hinson - Philadelphia 76ers (Rookie Card)
47 Craig Hodges - Milwaukee Bucks (Rookie Card)
48 Phil Hubbard - Cleveland Cavaliers
49 Jay Humphries - Phoenix Suns (Rookie Card)
50 Dennis Johnson - Boston Celtics
51 Eddie Johnson - Sacramento Kings (Rookie Card)
52 Frank Johnson - Washington Bullets (Rookie Card)
53 Magic Johnson - Los Angeles Lakers
54 Marques Johnson - Los Angeles Clippers
55 Steve Johnson - San Antonio Spurs
56 Vinnie Johnson - Detroit Pistons
57 Michael Jordan - Chicago Bulls (Rookie Card)
58 Clark Kellogg - Indiana Pacers (Rookie Card)
59 Albert King - New Jersey Nets
60 Bernard King - New York Knicks
61 Bill Laimbeer - Detroit Pistons
62 Allen Leavell - Houston Rockets
63 Lafayette Lever - Denver Nuggets (Rookie Card)
64 Alton Lister - Seattle SuperSonics (Rookie Card)
65 Lewis Lloyd - Houston Rockets
66 Maurice Lucas - Los Angeles Lakers
67 Jeff Malone - Washington Bullets (Rookie Card)
68 Karl Malone - Utah Jazz (Rookie Card)
69 Moses Malone - Washington Bullets
70 Cedric Maxwell - Los Angeles Clippers
71 Rodney McCray - Houston Rockets (Rookie Card)
72 Xavier McDaniel - Seattle SuperSonics (Rookie Card)
73 Kevin McHale - Boston Celtics
74 Mike Mitchell - San Antonio Spurs
75 Sidney Moncrief - Milwaukee Bucks
76 Johnny Moore - San Antonio Spurs
77 Chris Mullin - Golden State Warriors (Rookie Card)
78 Larry Nance - Phoenix Suns (Rookie Card)
79 Calvin Natt - Denver Nuggets
80 Norm Nixon - Los Angeles Clippers
81 Charles Oakley - Chicago Bulls (Rookie Card)
82 Akeem Olajuwon - Houston Rockets (Rookie Card)
83 Louis Orr - New York Knicks
84 Robert Parish - Boston Celtics (uncorrected error)
85 Jim Paxson - Portland Trail Blazers
86 Sam Perkins - Dallas Mavericks (Rookie Card)
87 Ricky Pierce - Milwaukee Bucks
88 Paul Pressey - Milwaukee Bucks (Rookie Card) 
89 Kurt Rambis - Los Angeles Lakers (Rookie Card)
90 Robert Reid - Houston Rockets
91 Doc Rivers - Atlanta Hawks (Rookie Card)
92 Alvin Robertson - San Antonio Spurs (Rookie Card)
93 Cliff Robinson - Philadelphia 76ers
94 Tree Rollins - Atlanta Hawks
95 Dan Roundfield - Washington Bullets
96 Jeff Ruland - Philadelphia 76ers
97 Ralph Sampson - Houston Rockets (Rookie Card)
98 Dan Schayes - Denver Nuggets (Rookie Card)
99 Byron Scott - Los Angeles Lakers (Rookie Card)
100 Purvis Short - Golden State Warriors
101 Jerry Sichting - Boston Celtics (Rookie Card)
102 Jack Sikma - Milwaukee Bucks
103 Derek Smith - Los Angeles Clippers (Rookie Card)
104 Larry Smith - Golden State Warriors
105 Rory Sparrow - New York Knicks (Rookie Card)
106 Steve Stipanovich - Indiana Pacers (Rookie Card)
107 Terry Teagle - Golden State Warrior (Rookie Card)
108 Reggie Theus - Sacramento Kings
109 Isiah Thomas - Detroit Pistons (Rookie Card)
110 LaSalle Thompson - Sacramento Kings (Rookie Card)
111 Mychal Thompson - Portland Trail Blazers
112 Sedale Threatt - Philadelphia 76ers (Rookie Card)
113 Wayman Tisdale - Indiana Pacers (Rookie Card)
114 Andrew Toney - Philadelphia 76ers
115 Kelly Tripucka - Detroit Pistons (Rookie Card)
116 Mel Turpin - Cleveland Cavaliers (Rookie Card)
117 Kiki Vandeweghe - Portland Trail Blazers (Rookie Card)
118 Jay Vincent - Dallas Mavericks(Rookie Card)
119 Bill Walton - Boston Celtics
120 Spud Webb - Atlanta Hawks  (Rookie Card)
121 Dominique Wilkins - Atlanta Hawks (Rookie Card)
122 Gerald Wilkins - New York Knicks (Rookie Card)
123 Buck Williams - New Jersey Nets (Rookie Card)
124 Gus Williams - Washington Bullets
125 Herb Williams - Indiana Pacers (Rookie Card)
126 Kevin Willis - Atlanta Hawks (Rookie Card)
127 Randy Wittman - Atlanta Hawks (Rookie Card)
128 Al Wood - Seattle SuperSonics
129 Mike Woodson - Sacramento Kings
130 Orlando Woolridge - Chicago Bulls (Rookie Card)
131 James Worthy - Los Angeles Lakers (Rookie Card)
132 Checklist

1986 Fleer Basketball Sticker Checklist

1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - Los Angeles Lakers
2 Larry Bird - Boston Celtics
3 Adrian Dantley- Utah Jazz
4 Alex English  - Denver Nuggets
5 Julius Erving - Philadelphia 76ers
6 Patrick Ewing (Rookie Card) - New York Knicks
7 Magic Johnson  - Los Angeles Lakers
8 Michael Jordan (Rookie Card) - Chicago Bulls
9 Hakeem Olajuwon (Rookie Card) - Houston Rockets
10 Isiah Thomas (Rookie Card) - Detroit Pistons
11 Dominique Wilkins (Rookie Card) - Atlanta Hawks

1986 Fleer wax boxes were issued with 36 packs, with each pack containing 12 regular cards and one sticker.  Thus each box contains 432 cards, and 36 stickers. Given the small size of the base set (132 cards) the odds of finding a Jordan in a pack are reasonably good.  On average, an unopened box should yield between three to four Jordan #57 rookie cards, and on average three Michael Jordan #8 stickers.  

86-fleer-wax

This predictability in collation has led to some that believe unopened single packs shouldn't be purchased unless from an unopened/unsearched box, due to the fact that some box owners might open packs, secure the 3-4 Jordan's and send off the rest to get graded, knowing that the remaining packs have a lower probability of success. 

Examining The Sequence In A 1986 Fleer Pack

First, let's examine an uncut sheet of 1986 Fleer Basketball.  This particular sheet starts with a Jeff Malone #67, with the succeeding cards running through the set numerically in order.  

1986 fleer basketball uncut sheet

Packs of '86 Fleer Basketball have two distinct parallel sequences, with the separation between the two sequences measuring 66 cards.  Cards in the pack move in a descending order, however can be random changes in the sequence.

1986 Fleer Basketball Wax Box, 36ct Packs, Michael Jordan ROOKIE, BBCE Auth, LOA

$150,200.00  (107 bids)
End Date: Sunday Jan-17-2021 22:39:04 EST

Bid

1986 Fleer Basketball Michael Jordan ROOKIE RC #57 PSA 9 MINT

$35,301.00  (84 bids)
End Date: Sunday Jan-17-2021 22:21:05 EST

Bid

1986 Fleer Basketball Michael Jordan ROOKIE RC #57 BGS AUTH

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1986 Fleer Basketball Michael Jordan #57 RC rookie card SGC 5 not psa

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For example a sample pack might look like this...

First Card #22
Second Card #88
Third Card #21
Fourth Card #87
Fifth Card #20
Sixth Card #86

and maybe we get a random flip on card #7 to say #110

we know the next card will be a difference of 66 cards, or card #44

Note that the sticker is completely random and not tied to the collation of the base cards in the pack.

Vintage Breaks Unopened 86 Fleer Box - A Perfect Study of The Sequence In The Packs 

I've actually been sort of obsessed with the sequence in '86 Fleer packs and YouTube provides no shortage of evidence to examine the cards.  

Here's an unopened box break from Vintage Breaks; let's examine the sequence of the cards.

So, first pack looked like this:

#45 - Gerald Henderson
#111 - Mychal Thompson
#88 - Paul Pressey
#22 - Brad Davis
#87 - Ricky Pierce
#21 - Adrian Dantley
#86 - Sam Perkins
#20 - Terry Cummings
#85 - Jim Paxson
#19 - Pat Cummings 
#84 - Robert Parish
#18 - Wayne Cooper
Sticker - #11 Dominique Wilkins

In pack #1 we can see that the sequence randomly flipped after the first two cards and then followed the normal parallel sequence.

Here's a look at the second pack:

#32 - Patrick Ewing
#98 - Dan Schayes
#31 - Julius Erving
#97 - Ralph Sampson
#30 - Alex English
#96 - Jeff Ruland
#29 - James Edwards
#95 - Dan Roundfield
#28 - Mark Eaton

Do you see the pattern?  Moving perfectly along with two parallel sequences, measured by a difference of 66 cards, moving in descending order.

So it's gotta be #94 Tree Rollins next...right?

Nope!  Check out how that next card shown is upside down--this is where the sequence has randomly flipped.  Thus, it is never a guarantee that each card in the pack will follow the same exact pattern throughout.

So next card is #46 - Roy Hinson; we can now predict precisely what the next card will be---as we know it will be a 66 card difference....Or none other than Sedale Threatt..right? Yep.

sedale-threatt

Moving On To Pack Three:

#104 - Larry Smith
#38 - Mike Gminski 
#103 - Derek Smith
#37 - Artis Gilmore
#102 - Jack Sikma
#36 - George Gervin
#101- Jerry Sichting
#35 - World B Free
#100 - Purvis Short
#34 - Sleepy Floyd 
#33 - Verm Fleming -- note we can see this is where the sequence flips, this card shows as upside down in the pack and oddly it is the next card descending in numerical order. 
#99 - Byron Scott-- this is a difference of 66 cards from #33, so totally makes sense. 

Pack Four - This pack has no random flips in sequence, and follows the two parallel 66 card descending sequence
#110 - LaSalle Thompson
#44 - Derek Harper
#109 - Isiah Thomas 
#43 - Bill Hanzlik
#108 - Reggie Theus
#42 - Darrell Griffith 
#107 - Terry Teagle
#41 - David Greenwood
#106 - Steve Stipanovich
#40 - Sydney Green
#105- Rory Sparrow
#39 - Rickey Green

Pack Five - Again, another pack with no random flip in sequence! 
#17 - Michael Cooper
#83 - Louis Orr
#16 - Maurice Cheeks
#82 - Akeem Olajuwon
#15 - Tom Chambers
#81 - Charles Oakley
#14 - Joe Barry Carroll
#80 - Norm Nixon
#13 - Sam Bowie
#79 - Calvin Natt
#12 - Manute Bol
#78 - Larry Nance
 
Pack Six - 
#111 -Mychal Thompson
#45 - Gerald Henderson
-----here's a random sequence flip
#22 - Brad Davis
#88 - Paul Pressey
#21 -Adrian Dantley
#87 -Ricky Pierce
#20 -Terry Cummings 
#86 -Sam Perkins
#19 - Pat Cummings
#85 - Jim Paxson
#18 - Wayne Cooper
#84 - Robert Parish

1986 Fleer Basketball Wax Box, 36ct Packs, Michael Jordan ROOKIE, BBCE Auth, LOA

$150,200.00  (107 bids)
End Date: Sunday Jan-17-2021 22:39:04 EST

Bid

1986 FLEER MICHAEL JORDAN ROOKIE STICKER SGC 88 BEAUTIFUL CARD SGC 8

$3,995.00  
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1986 Fleer Basketball Michael Jordan ROOKIE RC #57 PSA 9 MINT

$35,301.00  (84 bids)
End Date: Sunday Jan-17-2021 22:21:05 EST

Bid

1986 FLEER MICHAEL JORDAN ROOKIE CARD # 57 PSA 7 NM RC - RECENTLY GRADED

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No Jordan Yet!  And note that Darren Rovell was hoping for a Jordan but absent a very lucky random sequence change the numbers weren't showing that a Jordan was likely in that pack early on.

Let's fast forward to pack 18  

Click here to go to that pack  https://youtu.be/55vszqSUeso?t=3825

Pack 18
#69 - Moses Malone
#3 - Mark Aguirre
#68 - Karl Malone
#2 - Alvan Adams
#67 - Jeff Malone
#1 - Kareem-Abdul Jabbar

-----ok here's a sequence change

#55 - Steve Jordan---ok well, this must be a very nice sequence change...  There are five cards left in the pack and since MJ is #57, this has to be a good thing right?

Nope, don't forget that we move descending from here.  we would have been much happier seeing a #59 Albert King or #58 Clark Kellogg

#121 - Dominique Wilkins
#54 - Marques Johnson
#120 - Spud Webb
#53 - Magic Johnson
#119 - Bill Walton

Wow, half a box down and no Jordan's.  Let's go to the next pack"

Pack 19
#123 - Buck Williams - so if you've been playing along to this point, you know the sequence.  Sixty-six card difference.  123-66 = 57.   Yep there is is ....next card is 

jordan-break

They ended up pulling three Jordan's from the box.  Here's the other links and sequences:

Jordan Pull #2:  https://youtu.be/55vszqSUeso?t=5489

#58 - Clark Kellogg
#124 - Gus Williams -- can you guess who's next?
#57 - Michael Jordan

Jordan Pull #3:  https://youtu.be/55vszqSUeso?t=6262
#59 - Albert King
#125 - Herb Williams
#58 - Clark Kellogg-- oh, Clark again, good to see you!
#124 - Gus Williams -- who's next?

they act so surprised, but have to assume they knew it was coming,:

break-jordan-three

I think by now, you should have a good idea on how this whole sequencing thing works with 1986 Fleer basketball packs.

Can You Tell If A Pack Holds A Jordan Rookie?

Let's remember that the sticker on the back of the pack is completely random, thus the sticker will not tell us anything about the base cards in the pack.  

Now it can be possible to shine a bright light on the front of the pack.  This will certainly help us with sequencing.  For example if you saw a #123 Buck Williams, there is a very high likelihood that the next card is Jordan.  Or if you saw for example a #124 Gus Williams, we know that the next card would be #58 Clark Kellogg, and assuming no sequence change, the next card would be Buck Williams and then Jordan.

This is why buying unopened 86 Fleer packs can certainly be a crap shoot, especially if they haven't been graded.  Even if they are graded, it is entirely possible that the seller examined the front of the pack before grading.  

But remember, just because a front card doesn't match up with a sequence to a Jordan rookie, doesn't mean that it might not change sequences randomly in the pack.  This is why front card identification, while very helpful in trying to predict sequence, is not always fool proof. 

Investing In Unopened 1986 Fleer Packs

So, first of all, I would be very skeptical about buying any unopened 1986 Fleer packs on eBay that haven't been graded.  This is of course, unless you are buying from a highly respected seller and if the pack looks like is has not been tampered with.  Even then I might try to get a peek at the front and back (sticker) cards. 

The only current grader for individual wax packs is PSA, although GAI used to grade wax packs and ultimately they were fairly reputable in the early days, so typically I would feel somewhat confident in buying GAI graded packs.

However, I would also examine packs to look for any tears on the corners of the packs or any suspicious folding with the pack itself.  Here are red flags we outlined in a previous article:

  • Broken Gum
  • Creased Wrapper
  • Bent Pack Corners
  • Tears In The Pack
  • Weird Shape In The Pack

    Current non PSA 10 packs are going for around $3000 so it is a hefty investment, but still even with some of the negatives we discussed, could be a worthy investment if Jordan rookie cards keep surging in value.
  • 1986 Fleer NBA Basketball EMPTY Wax Box Case,12 Wax Pack Boxes+432 Pack Wrappers

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    1986 FLEER BASKETBALL PACK PSA 8 WILKINS STICKER BACK MICHAEL JORDAN ROOKIE #57?

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    1986 Fleer Basketball Wax Pack PSA 8 NM-MT

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    1986 Fleer Wax Pack PSA 9 Mint Possible Michael Jordan Rookie! Olajuwon RC back!

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