Whether you’re new to the hobby or returning after a long hiatus from it, there’s a chance you’ve encountered basketball cards produced by companies other than Panini. Check them out and they’re most likely made between the late ’80s and the 2000s. Among the companies involved in the card industry during these years was Fleer. We take a look below at how this company started, its peak, and its subsequent downfall from the basketball card market. 

Fleer releases its first cards in 1923

Although Fleer was first established in 1885 to sell confectionery products, the company would find greater success with trading cards. 38 years after its founding, Fleer released baseball-centric cards that were included in their Bobs and Fruit Hearts candy. This product would go on to predate many competitors in the card industry.

Fleer’s first stab at basketball cards in 1961

Fleer was late into the game when it comes to basketball cards, with Bowman and Topps predating the company. It wasn’t until 1961 when the company, which focused on baseball and football before, released their first basketball-related product.


Fleer’s inaugural basketball set, which contained 66 cards, featured a simple design consisting of the player at the bottom and the label up top. The highlight of this set is a Wilt Chamberlain rookie card, which recently sold on eBay for $12,000.

Fleer’s Golden Era: 1986-1996

The foray in 1961 wouldn’t be followed by subsequent products. It wasn’t until 25 years later when the card company would take a stab at basketball cards again with their 1986 Fleer Basketball set, which featured the iconic rookie cards of Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, to name a few.

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1986-1987 Fleer 57 of 132 Michael Jordan Rookie Card RC Reprint | Michael jordan, Michael jordan chicago bulls, Jordans

Fleer would go on to ride their newfound wave of popularity into the ’90s as they competed with other brands, such as Topps and Upper Deck. In 1992, the card company was sold to comic book giant Marvel for $540 million. During this time, Fleer released a number of products that captured a significant portion of the market. Their success at this time led to a merger with Skybox in 1995 to solidify their place in the card industry.

One year later, Marvel filed for bankruptcy, directly affecting the operations of Fleer. The company was eventually sold in 1999 to a corporation owned by Alex and Roger Grass, who continued the production of cards during this time.

The final years with Upper Deck

Under the guidance of Grass, Fleer marched on with its card business until 2005. At this time, the company filed for State Court Liquidation, which is almost similar to bankruptcy. Upper Deck swooped in and purchased the rights to Fleer and all of their products for $6.1 million.

Fleer would go on to become a sub-brand under Upper Deck’s umbrella. Apart from basketball cards, products related to football, baseball, and hockey were also released under the Fleer brand.

Unfortunately, the license to produce cards featuring NBA players would be purchased by Panini in 2011. This development virtually ended any chance of Fleer to release any new basketball-related product.

As of this moment, there is no indication of any Fleer-produced basketball cards being released since Panini solely holds the license to manufacture NBA-related products. Those who are interested in searching for Fleer basketball cards, especially those made in the ’90s, can still get their fix by checking out the market. Just be sure to check the condition of these cards so you won’t end up losing money on them.