I loved the 1990-91 NBA Hoops cards. And now one random card has become oddly lucrative — after the discovery of two notorious ’90s murderers in the background.
The first trading cards I ever collected were 1990-91 NBA Hoops. Got the whole set, too. It’s still sitting in my childhood closet at my parents’ house. Little did I know back in the early ’90s, as I was painstakingly assembling that set, that now, nearly 30 years later, the value of one of the cards in the set would skyrocket roughly 10,000 percent — all on the strength of a little parricide.
The runaway popularity of NBA Hoops cards was a classic case of the right place at the right time. They happened to be the only mainstream NBA cards produced the year both the NBA and the trading cards industry concurrently skyrocketed in popularity. And I fell hard for both. Throughout elementary school in the ’80s, I never watched basketball. Maybe peripherally. By the end of the Lakers-Bulls NBA Finals in 1991? I was an NBA savant. Collecting NBA trading cards were a natural extension.
Mark Jackson, who’s now famous for being an iffy color commentator on ABC’s NBA broadcasts and the Golden State Warriors coach who couldn’t figure out how to turn the Curry/Klay/Green core into one of the greatest dynasties of all time, was a point guard for the New York Knicks. In the 1989-90 season, which is the season featured on the 1990-91 NBA Hoops cards, Jackson was… okay. A former all-star, Jackson came back to have a particularly down year. He averaged a hair under 7.4 assists — not spectacular, considering at that point, just dumping the ball down to Patrick Ewing should’ve pushed a starting point guard’s numbers higher.
He was card #205 in the NBA Hoops set, a card that was, essentially, a “common.” That being the vernacular for a card with no discernible value. For most of the past three decades, you could probably buy it for around 10 cents or less, with a handful of other commons thrown in.
But then, last August, someone spotted something that changed everything.
Stephen Zerance is a true crime fan and writer and, last year, he became interested in one of the more famous true crime stories of recent history: The Menendez brothers. Lyle and Erik Menendez were brothers in Beverly Hills, Calif., who were convicted of murdering their parents in 1989.
Though they claimed abuse, prosecutors were able to prove their case that the brothers killed their parents for insurance money — largely on evidence of a post-murder spending spree which included expensive watches, cars, and vacations.
Between the murders in August of 1989 and the brothers’ arrest in March of 1990, they spent an estimated $700,000.
That intrigued Stephen. He told Slam magazine he was combing through the records of the Menendez brothers’ spending and noticed a line item for courtside tickets to see the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. He pored over Getty images looking for evidence of the brothers at MSG to no avail. Then he got the idea to buy up basketball cards from the era to see if any of them contained the photobomb in a haystack he was looking for.
And… incredibly enough, Mark Jackson’s card actually did.
Right there in the background are Lyle and Erik Menendez, watching a game — smack in the middle of that period between the murders and their arrest.
Stephen tweeted his discovery on August 12th of last year, but it stayed under the radar until December, when someone else posted about it on Reddit.
Since then, the price of that Mark Jackson card has skyrocketed, far past some of the other prominent cards from the 1990-91 NBA Hoops set.
Rookie cards from Shawn Kemp, Drazen Petrovic, and Tim Hardaway.
One of the earliest Michael Jordan basketball cards available (since the NBA went for quite a while without an official trading card company, most previous Jordans were part of obscure, limited sets; this Jordan was the first many kids ever got their hands on).
A card of a journeyman named Sam Vincent, whose card features the one time Michael Jordan wore a number 12 jersey because his regular jersey was stolen.
And my personal favorite, a (H)akeem Olajuwon card where it looks like he has one-and-a-quarter white legs (due to a compression sleeve that was hard to spot with the naked eye).
Today, the Mark Jackson 1990-91 NBA Hoops card sells on eBay for an average of around $10, with some people trying to sell mint condition versions for 10 or even 100 times that price. Those sellers all know as well that, at any moment, eBay technically could pull the listings, as its policies prohibit selling items “affiliated with murders or serial killers.”
Next week on 11 Points: I’ll see if I can track down Lorena Bobbitt making a cameo on, oh I don’t know, a 1991 Donruss Elite card of Bret Saberhagen.