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My first dance with MJ and ‘The Last Dance’ during pandemic

MJ

Greg Deal keeps this prized card in a secure, undisclosed location.

With no live sports because of the novel coronavirus, sports replays and documentaries have become popular these days.

Undoubtedly, “The Last Dance,” which chronicles the sixth and final NBA championship run of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, has been a huge hit with viewers.

I was 12 years old during Jordan’s freshman season at North Carolina in 1981-82. I was immediately in love with his game — and quite proud of him as a lifelong Tar Heels fan.

Jordan went on to hit the game-winning shot against Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA national championship, and his name changed from Mike Jordan to Michael Jordan in the 1982-83 media guide.

Jordan played two more seasons with the Tar Heels before being drafted by the Chicago Bulls. Before then, I got to play in a pickup game with Jordan and fellow Tar Heels teammates James Worthy and Brad Daugherty, both, like Jordan, multiple-time all-stars in the NBA. The game was in Asheville at the UNC Asheville gym. My cousin was a star on the 1984 UNCA national championship women’s basketball team. Like Jordan, she hit the game-winning shot.

Anyway, I knew Daugherty from playing against him when I was a freshman at Erwin High School and he was a senior at Owen, near Asheville. Jordan, Worthy and Daugherty were all from the state, and they just happened to be using the UNCA gym for some pickup games.

In 1989, Jordan’s 1986 Fleer rookie card’s price began skyrocketing as his NBA career did. A gem mint 10 (perfect grading) Jordan rookie card went for nearly $1,000 at the time.

No major trading card company made basketball cards in 1984 and ‘85, so the ‘86 Fleer card is the Holy Grail of Jordan rookie cards. Sure, a little-known company called Star produced a Jordan card in 1985, but few have it.

In 1989, for my birthday, my wife begrudgingly let me spend my $60 of my birthday money to buy one unopened pack of Fleer ‘86 cards from a card dealer. There were 36 packs in a box, and you had four in 36 chances of getting a pack with a Jordan rookie. The chance of landing a rookie MJ made an unopened wax-pack box very valuable. A pack that cost 45 cents in 1986 was now worth $60 — with no guarantee of landing a Jordan.

I bought my pack and anxiously went through my cards until I got to what I had only dreamed of — the Jordan rookie card. It was beautiful. I also got the rookie sticker card in the same pack, which is very rare. Wax packs had sticks of gum in them back then, but I didn’t consider trying it.

I went straight back inside the card shop in Charlotte and purchased a very expensive card protector. The dealer told me he had never seen a rookie Jordan card that nice. The ‘86 Fleer set was notorious for being poorly cut, leading to off-center borders. My card was perfectly centered, had brilliant photo quality and four sharp corners.

It was a certified gem mint 10. A similar card sold for $100,000 at auction several years ago. Don’t worry. Mine is in a safe deposit box.

It’s going to pay for part of my retirement in about 15 years.

“The Last Dance” has brought back a number of memories for me. I also own the first MJ Wheaties box, unopened, and his first Starting Lineup figure, also unopened. Both are worth thousands. I have an unopened 1982 UNC Coke bottle and lots of other MJ memorabilia, all safely secured.

My wife claims ownership of a special MJ card distributed by Sweet & Low to the first 500 attendees at a 1990 Bulls game.

Watching “The Last Dance” during the pandemic has been wonderful. In fact, it probably wouldn’t be as popular if people weren’t starved for sports right now. But, certainly, it’s still a potential award-winning documentary.

The day I snagged my rookie Jordan was a dream realized. It was magical.

I’m glad younger folks who didn’t get to see Jordan live during his prime get to experience his career through “The Last Dance.”

I had my “first dance” with Jordan during that pickup game in the mid-1980s. My second dance was securing his rookie card.

It’s fitting we now have “The Last Dance.”

Contact staff writer Greg Deal at gdeal@indexjournal.com or follow on Twitter @IJDEAL.

About this blog

From telecommuting to the new public home school model, a growing number of us are homebound for the foreseeable future as we take unprecedented steps to slow and hopefully stop the spread of the new coronavirus that is sweeping the world. This blog is our attempt to catalog some of the daily changes we are experiencing together. If you want to share your story with us, email us at newsroom@indexjournal.com.

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