Star Basketball Cards: An Interview With A Hobby Expert

1984-Star-Jordan-101Star Basketball cards were issued from 1983 to 1986 and were the only licensed NBA basketball cards on the market until Fleer came to town in 1986-1987.

The cards were a bit of an anomaly in that they were released in polybags, either by team issue or in various subsets and not in wax packs.

The Star company also has a bit of a checkered past; the ‘Shop At Home’ scandal involved the former owner of Star- Robert Levin selling counterfeit cards on a home shopping channel.

Star cards were produced in fairly limited quantities – it is believed that most sets had production runs under 5000 cards – yet most collectors I know sort of dismiss the cards as second fiddle to any of the later Fleer issues. 

Thus, I really made it my mission to figure out if Star cards are either:

A) an underappreciated and undervalued long term investment  

or

B) not worthy of the time, just too confusing, too checkered a past, and too littered with counterfeits.

So, I got a hold of the hobby’s most renowned expert on Star Basketball Cards – Steve Taft.  Steve has been dealing with Star Cards since the beginning in 1983 and had once consulted with the major grading companies on how to identify counterfeits.  Steve knows Star Basketball cards inside and out.  

The ultimate goal of this interview is to help collectors with some of the confusion on the various issues and to help provide some more legitimacy to the cards.  

My ultimate conclusion: Star basketball cards deserve more attention. 

I hope you enjoy this interview with Steve Taft. 

An Interview With Star Basketball Cards Expert, Steve Taft

How did you first get involved with Star cards?

I was always interested in basketball cards, and, when I received the first order form from Star Co Basketball Cards, the 1983 All-Star Game Set, I ordered 50 sets.  37 years later I'm still buying / selling Star Co cards.

How is it that you became involved as a Star authenticator for Beckett and other grading companies?

That started as a result of being offered some of what we now refer to as "Type II Counterfeits".  I bought 4 cards and there was just something uncomfortable about them right away.  This was 1992, plus or minus a year.  I sent one card in for grading.  It came back graded a Mint 9. 

However, in the week I spent waiting for that card to return from the grading company, I immersed myself in research.  By the time the card returned, I knew it was not the original issue (despite being in a graded holder).  I contacted the grading company and the result was they decided to no longer grade Star Co.

Over the next few months I continued to do research, and, that resulted in a meeting with NBA Attorney's and multiple discussions with the NBA's lead investigator on the Shop at Home / NBA Licensing scandal.  I think I provided some pretty solid information during these discussions, and, I learned some background info from the NBA's lawyer's and investigators that really helped me piece together a timeline of Star Co.'s history.

Editor's Note - When Taft refers to a 'Type II Counterfeit" these were Star cards that were likely factory rejects that were meant to be destroyed but ultimately stolen by a former print production employee and released to the public.  This was a 100 card sheet from the 1985-1986 Star issue (2nd Series Run).  More on this later in the interview.

Do you still consult for third party graders?

I have not been under an official consulting contract for about ten years.  I do have an occasional conversation with grading company representatives if I get new information, and, occasionally, a question may come in to me.

Why do you think that Beckett is the only grader that will authenticate Star cards? 

I think there's three things in play at this point.  Previously, I think it was fear brought about by the rumor mill of bad information.  I've pitched the other two major grading companies in the past about a training session, and, I think they considered it, but, ultimately passed due to concerns coming from the old information.  

The second point, I think it's also about time.  These companies are so far behind on grading submissions, they don't want to take the grading staff away from grading for a day to do a training session.  Perhaps the amount of Star cards out there to be graded is an issue, too.  If there were an unlimited amount to be submitted where the monetary payoff would be stronger, that might make a difference.  This is my perception of the three issues, though, fear is the most likely, despite the evidence that has continued to come in the last 15 years to mitigate the rumor mill.

Do you think other graders such as PSA would ever get involved again?  

I wouldn't rule it out, but, I'm not optimistic.

It seems that Star cards have gotten a bad rap (mostly on concern of excess counterfeits) - do you think that concern is justified?  

There's no debate that Star Co. counterfeits exist.  However, in comparison to Fleer Jordan RC counterfeits and the various fakes from so many other trading cards, the total numbers are not out of the ordinary.  It's a pretty easy argument that Jordan #101 fakes are a fraction of the Fleer Jordan RC fakes.  

The rumor mill put so much incorrect information into the hobby during the 1990's about Star Co., and, it has taken a long time to get the correct story into the media. In the ten plus years BGS has been grading Star Co., a lot of information has been published that I think has helped improve the knowledge base for many collector's. 

You've mentioned in other discussions that the only 'true' 'reprints' (aka the Type II Counterfeits) are from the second series of 85-86 Star (#95-172).  Is that true?  

I wouldn't call them "true reprints", I still consider them counterfeits, but, they were printed by one of the two printing contractor's that Star Co. used.  This is most likely a defective batch because the artwork was placed slightly off-register, ie. misaligned.  These cards were never sold in the original team bags, and, I could never find any evidence that the Star Co. owner sold them in his private auction or in follow up sales.  The person that had these Type II counterfeits to sell told media sources he bought them from Star.  

NBA investigators told me he worked at the print shop.  So, it appears it was either a case of an illegal printing, or, more likely, defective product that was stolen. Either alternative fits into the definition of counterfeit.    How would we collectors actually verify this?  Pretty tough to do at this point....  I guess people have to decide if they believe me, or, if they have the time, money, and energy to track down the other people involved back then to try to piece together the evidence.

Any tips or things for collectors to look out for in helping authenticate Star cards?

There is not one rule that covers all Star Co. cards.  Here's a few of the key things to look out for, and, remember, apply the tip only to the card(s) noted.  Authenticating a #101 MJ has nothing to do with authenticating a 117 MJ.  

1.  1985-86 Star #95 to 172, the Best of the NEW Set, and, the Jordan 10-Card Set:  The cards with colored borders will have some front border color "bleed" to the back edge(s).  The amount of bleed can vary a lot, from tiny specs you can only see with a magnifier, to bleed you can see very easily.  The bleed can be on one edge, or multiple edges.  Type II counterfeits do not have bleed, (assuming someone isn't adding bleed in an effort to trick potential buyer's).  

2.  Best of New:  The Star '86 logo in upper right corner.  Under magnification, it appears solid yellow on the original.  The Type II counterfeit Star '86 shows a dot pattern under magnification.

3.  1985-86 Trailblazers:  The border framing line appears red in color.  The original still looks red under magnification, the Type II counterfeit shows orange color under magnification.

Type II Counterfeit Star Basketball Cards - 1985-86 Issue

#95-172 - 78 cards (this includes the #117 Jordan card and #166 Ewing XRC)

Green Celtics - 8 cards

Jordan 10 card set - 10 cards 

Best of New - 4 cards


Here is an authentic Jordan card from the 1995-96 Jordan 10 Card Set:

jordan-star-117-authentic

And here is a 'Type II Counterfeit".  Compare the white borders on the counterfeit below and look at how the white spills out onto the red of the card. The counterfeit cards also tend to be more glossy, whereas originals have a dull, matte finish.  Also note that Type II's are easily identified due to their lack of rear color bleed. 

jordan-star-type-two-117

And here's a Jordan #117 from the 95-96 Set that is a Type II Counterfeit

type-ii-jordan-117

And here is an authentic #117 Jordan card.  Notice the white spilling out on the borders should only happen on the left whereas on the Type II above you can see that the border is spilling out all the way around.

jordan-117-star-authentic

Here's a authentic Ewing XRC from the 1985-1986 Star set.  Take a close look at the white borders.  You can see that there is no white border frame spilling out all around. 

ewing-real-star-xrc

Now here is a Type II Counterfeit.  Can you spot the difference? 

ewing-type-ii

Are there any printing plates from Star out there that could ultimately be run to reprint cards again?

This is a question I get asked fairly often.  And, it's the perfect set up to explain why the original Star Co. cards were not reprinted by the Star Co. owner.  Many readers might recall the early to mid 90's Star Co. issues.  There were multiple "player" sets, most of which had the NBA Logo's airbrushed out of the photos.  I was told by NBA sources Star had to pay a settlement fee to the NBA for the sets that were not airbrushed, as, the Licensing was from the individual players and not the NBA.  

The old cliche, follow the money, is very appropriate here.  If you estimate how much profit, if any, the owner of Star Co. made selling these sets, it just could not have been much.  Then, move forward to the 1997 Shop at Home situation where "new" sets were made and back-dated to 1985 / 1986.  While some of the Shop at Home sets had the same name as original Star sets, there were different years, different border colors, etc. 

A quick example, the original Miller Lite All-Star Set was dated 1985 and had dark blue borders.  The Shop at Home Miller Lite All-Star Set was dated 1986 and had white borders.  If you understand the mark-up pricing structure of TV Shopping Networks, and, the fact Star had to pay a middleman to get this product to Shop at Home, once again, while he probably made a profit (until the lawsuit), it wasn't a life changing amount of money.  

jordan-lite-all-star

A Miller Lite All-Star Jordan Card from the 1985 Star Basketball set. Not that 'Shop At Home' Miller Lite cards have a white border.

Knowing these facts about the business of Star makes it easy to surmise.....

Wouldn't it have been much easier and cheaper to just reprint your original Star cards of Jordan (and maybe a few other key rookies) and sell a few to your dealer network each month?  

The answer is yes.  

If Star had the ability to make exact reprints of their original cards, and fool people like me and the other original Star Co. dealers, Star would have made a lot more money than what was made with the airbrushed sets and the Shop at Home fantasy counterfeits.  

We should probably consider the risk taken to do the Shop at Home cards, too. That cost the defendants in the lawsuit a $1.1 million settlement that the NBA won. There are many other factors involved in the question of whether Star reprinted the original cards, but, through my extensive research that includes a lot of discussions with NBA attorney's and investigators, I'm convinced Star did not have the ability to make exact reproductions of the original cards like the Jordan 101, etc.  

Here's where someone may question the black or white bordered 101 counterfeits that appear on eBay frequently.  That sure looks identical to many people except for the border color.  But, the tilt and cutting patterns do not match to the original. So, even if that had been done in the original red border color, that tilt and cut just will not match.   

white-border-jordan-star-fake

A white bordered #101 Jordan fake often found on eBay. These are really sloppy reprints and could have not been printed from Star printing plates

Your readers may have noticed that I'm in possession of many of the Production Transparencies used by Star Co. in the manufacturing process.  A production transparency is somewhat of a cross between a film negative and a slide. 

 Ownership of these transparencies was transferred to Bill Schonsheck in 1996.  There's approximately 500.  Bill stored them until recently when he consigned them to me.  I have a copy of the contract drawn up by Bill's Attorney's.  This deal also included some original artwork and office records.  I'm offering many of these transparencies for sale now.

taft-production-sheet

Editor's Note: This is quite an incredible find, and in essence a one of a kind item.  An uncut sheet featuring the #101 Jordan RC along with the transparency used to create the card is a once in a lifetime sort of opportunity.

I encourage any collectors interested in Star Cards to work with Steve Taft.  He is not only one of the most knowledgeable Star dealers in the hobby, but a super respected and reliable guy.  You can be certain that whatever it is that he sells you is a legit Star card. (Link To Steve Taft's Collectibles on eBay)

Lastly, any thoughts on all of the trimming issues in the hobby?  

Trimming and recoloring was being done on a small scale 30+ years ago.  Since 3rd party grading has come into play, and, card values have increased, the professional trimming establishment has grown significantly larger in recent years.  Some of the people I suspected in the last 10-20 years were "outed" in the Blowout Forums in the past year or so.  

I had hopes the exposure would have sent them packing, maybe even brought an indictment and prosecution, but, so far, it appears business as usual for most, and, maybe even more business for them.  It's frustrating as honest buyer's are being scammed, and, honest seller's are having to compete with crooks. We will never get rid of all the crooks, but, we need a few prosecutions soon to help deter this problem from continuing at the pace its been on the last few years.

Why do you think the graders are missing this?  

The trimmer's are getting better, and, the grader's don't have enough time per card to catch everything.  It's a constant game between the two.  Historical knowledge of how the cards were made comes into play, too.  It's not easy to find grader's with extensive knowledge of a hundred year's worth of cards.  I expect the only way to battle this effectively will be prosecutions.

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