Diamonds in the Junk – 1990 Fleer Basketball4 min read


For collectors of a certain age there is something oddly comforting about junk wax cards. Far too many were printed, they’re littered with quasi-errors and print issues, and “rare” chase cards are numbered in the thousands. However, they are also full of players who are now in their respective halls of fame, the cards are necessary parts of many PSA Set Registries and a $5 or $10 investment can still bring hours of enjoyment. Not a bad deal. Here is the latest installment in the PSA Blog series called Diamonds in the Junk, where we crack some junk wax, review the results, relate them to the hobby today and have fun along the way.


After several years of being patently ignored by collectors, Fleer basketball cards began to garner increased attention in early 1990. Therefore the 1990-91 issue was the first Fleer basketball set to be seriously anticipated prior to release. In addition to cards being distributed directly to dealers, Price Club (later Costco) sold through pallets and pallets of product in a matter of hours. Little did collectors realize at the time that Fleer had printed considerably more of this issue than they had their previous basketball sets. In years to come the 1990-91 set would not hold its value and its popularity with hobbyists would wane.

The base set features a relatively simple design with large action photos printed upon crisp, white card stock. Multi-colored borders and name plates adorn the card fronts and a team logo is placed within the player image. The result is a colorful, if not inspiring, trading card. There are 198 cards in the base set, and in lieu of the stickers that had accompanied cards in years past, Fleer produced a 12-card All-Star set that was randomly inserted into packs. A 10-card Rookie Sensations insert set could be found in specially designed 43-card packs. Typical of the era, error cards were scattered throughout the set, although none made a significant impact on the hobby. In addition to the Michael Jordan cards (regular and All-Star insert), collectors sought rookie issues of Shawn Kemp, Tim Hardaway, Vlade Divac and the first Fleer issue of David Robinson.


I started cracking the box and was quickly unimpressed. As to be expected, the bottom card in each pack was rendered worthless (or more worthless than it would have been otherwise) due to wax stains. But the thing that really struck me was the poor centering throughout the set. Left-right, top-bottom, and the combination of the two made for some ugly cards.

Condition aside, the packs were full of big names like Jordan, Robinson, Bird, Rodman (with naturally-colored hair and sans tattoos and piercings), Kemp, Ewing, Johnson… The studs of the late ’80s and early ’90s were all present and accounted for. I got Michael Jordan and David Robinson base cards in the 16th, 35th and 36th packs that I opened, which I recalled from my younger days opening these packs as being a cause for minor celebration (Fleer earned a well-deserved point for the sense of nostalgia there). A handful of the All-Star inserts were sprinkled throughout the box, but while I did get a Jordan it suffered from centering issues. That card actually does a pretty good job of portraying my experience with the entire box – initial excitement followed by something to nullify the sense of pleasure.


Yawn… This one didn’t do much for me. I’m not the biggest hoops fan in the world to begin with, but cracking a box of 1990-91 Fleer did little to inspire me. With a yellow box, yellow packs and card fronts that contain a serious amount of white, I found the overall presentation to be rather bland. The action images were nice, but few were powerful enough to illicit a “WOW!” as I looked through the cards. After sorting everything I came away with one complete set and was 10 cards shy of completing another. Not too bad, but with 396 cards needed to complete two sets, I would have hoped that a 540-card box could have done the job.

I spent $10 on this 1990-91 Fleer box and even though it held my attention for nearly three hours of ripping and sorting, I don’t think I would purchase another. I could have had a carne asada burrito and hot carrots for about the same price and while the meal would not have required three hours of my time it would have likely given me greater satisfaction.

THE DIAMOND IN THE JUNK: #59 Dennis Rodman (in his pre-eccentricity days)


Posted by Todd Tobias

Todd Tobias is a longtime hobbyist and PSA staff member who is constantly on the hunt for vintage lacrosse issues and autographed cards for his American Football League (1960-1969) collection.

Johnny Robinson - Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2019!!!

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