1980-81 Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson card sells for more than $125,000

By Larry Canale

So many questions this month … For starters, have you ever seen a 1980-81 Topps card of Larry Bird, Julius Erving and Magic Johnson sell for a higher price than the example that leads off our Top 10 list?

In 2016, we reported on a Bird/Magic/Dr. J rookie—a PSA 10—that sold for $96,423. And in 2017, we reported on another (also PSA 10) that sold for $88,988. But this is the first time we’ve seen one crack six figures on eBay, selling for $125,200.

This particular example should be a PSA 10 “Plus,” judging by the listing, in which seller PWCC raved about the flawless details: “The print is the best we’ve ever seen on this card, completely devoid of even the slightest fleck of print snow. The surfaces are spotless and the card is centered exceptionally well. Even the perforations between the panels are dead centered.”

The description fired up viewers: The card drew 91 bids in soaring to its eye-popping price.

BEST FOOTBALL NAME EVER?

Has there ever been a better name for a football player than Bronko Nagurski? It just sounds right—perfect for a hard-charging, rock-solid, tough-as-nails gridiron stud. That description sums up Nagurski (1908-1990), a two-time All-American at the University of Minnesota who graduated to become a marquee player for the Chicago Bears.

The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Nagurski was the biggest fullback of his day, and he doubled as a defensive tackle. No matter which side of the ball he was playing, he symbolized the ruggedness of the game. During a nine-year NFL career, he barreled his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which quotes him as saying, “I liked to meet guys head-on when I was carrying the ball. Then I’d drop my shoulder and catch him with that, and then brush him off with my arm.”

Compared to today’s numbers, Nagurski’s stats won’t wow you: He had 2,778 career rushing yards and 25 touchdowns. But it was a different game back in the 1930s. In those rough-and-tumble, run-first times, Nagurski helped the Bears to NFL titles in 1932 and 1933 before retiring in 1937 at age 29. He came back at age 35 in 1943 (when World War II resulted in a shortage of players), and helped Chicago to still another NFL title.

We’re reminded of Nagurski because of the sale on eBay of his rookie card—a 1935 National Chicle graded PSA 6—for $24,399. The card’s front features an illustration of the burly Nagurski charging at the viewer. The reverse gives us more details: “A product of the wheat farm country [in Minnesota], he still works the soil between action on the football field and professional wrestling mat. He is one of the few players versatile enough to play any position on the team without losing effectiveness.”

Other recent sales of this card classic include a PSA 3.5-graded specimen that brought $5,200 and an ungraded but authenticated example that fetched $3,100. 

While we’re at it, let’s look at some more budget-friendly Nagurski memorabilia:   

• As noted in the National Chicle card’s reverse-side text, Nagurski also did some pro wrestling. As such, there’s a popular 1955 Parkhurst card of the footballer in wrestling togs in “the squared circle.” In recent months, we’ve seen PSA 2 and PSA 3 examples of the card sell for $76 and $75, and an ungraded one sell for $80.

• You’ll find examples of Nagurski’s autograph at surprisingly reasonable prices. Two cases in point: a 2017 Panini Certified Cuts card that sold for $210 and a 2013 Panini Natural Treasures Souvenir Cut that brought $208. Both cards featured cut signatures as part of the design.

• You’ll find a number of enticing vintage photographs of Nagurski out there. One that we found on eBay dates to 1929 and captures Nagurski—wearing one of those classic old leather helmets—tossing a football before a University of Minnesota game. The photo brought $158.

BEST BASKETBALL NICKNAME

Has there ever been a better nickname for a basketball player than Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain? Well, okay, you can make cases for “Pistol” Pete Maravich, Karl “The Mailman” Malone, Charles “Round Mound of Rebound” Barkley and many others (including the three stars mentioned in this column’s lead item: Larry “Legend” Bird, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Julius “Dr. J” Erving). 

But for our purposes, we’ll go with Wilt the Stilt in honor of two different 1961-62 Fleer cards that caught our attention. One of them is his rookie card, which sold for $60,656 on eBay in September, thanks to its pristine condition (PSA 9). The other is Wilt’s “In Action” card from the same set, which fetched $17,999, thanks to even better condition: This example graded out at PSA 10. Perfect!

Likewise, Chamberlain was just about the perfect scoring machine. He came out of college with a bang, averaging 37.6 points per game in his rookie season (1959-60). Two seasons later, he averaged an unbelievable 50.4 points per game. That was the season in which he posted his 100-point game (March 2, 1962).

At 7-foot-2 (at least) and a muscular 275 pounds, Wilt the Stilt was a nearly unstoppable force. Collectors, obviously, haven’t forgotten.

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