Michael Jordan is making trading card history again, crisscrossing sports, card makers and decades.
An officially licensed Michael Jordan Major League Baseball painting by Dan Gardiner, commissioned by Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams for his card company in the mid-1990s, is now being auctioned by Goldin Auctions. This is the only authorized Jordan art made for a trading card, and not for Upper Deck.
The auction runs through the end of June.
The MJ baseball card was released in the 1994 125th Anniversary Ted Williams Card Company Baseball Set.
Jordan retired from basketball in October 1993 and announced in February of 1994 that he had signed a contract with the Chicago White Sox to play minor league baseball. A year later, he gave up baseball and returned to the NBA and Chicago Bulls.
The original artist painting has been kept in mint condition at the California home of Tony Loiacono, who spent two years in the 1990s as vice president of marketing for Upper Deck, reporting directly to former CEO Richard McWilliam.
After leaving Upper Deck along with other company executives, he landed at the new Ted Williams Card Company, serving as CEO and co-founder for the popular, yet short-lived multi-sport card maker.
“It’s part of history — not only Michael Jordan’s, but Ted Williams’ too,” Loiacono said. “It’s both great and sad for me [to be parting with the original art].”
This officially licensed, commissioned piece of Jordan art is a one-of-a-kind. Even more rare is the 1-of-1 NFT that is part of the sale by Goldin Auctions. Some are predicting the rare painting could sell for $50,000 or more.
Loiacono, now 65, has a history with Jordan that pre-dates this special card. In fact, that history led to the Jordan card being licensed by the Ted Williams Card Company.
During his time at Upper Deck, Loiacono was asked by McWilliam if he could help secure an NBA license, with Jordan part of the Upper Deck cards. So Loiacono had to work with Jordan’s longtime agent David Falk.
In the early 1990s, Loiacono and Falk met one day at the Carlsbad Airport Café in California.
“We agreed to a long-term deal, for Upper Deck and Upper Deck Authenticated — and that relationship is still going after all these years,” Loiacono said. “David and I worked together when it was suspected that Michael may be traded [by the Bulls]. As we were eating, I said, ‘We need a great ad campaign.’”
They launched TRADE JORDAN, with eight billboards in major Chicago locations going up on a Sunday.
Come Monday, talk radio in Chicago was going nuts, with callers curious who would want to TRADE JORDAN. There even were death threats to those who produced the billboards.
Then, on Wednesday night, the billboards were changed, highlighting a Michael Jordan card and the statement, “Trade Jordan Only On Upper Deck.”
“It was a legendary campaign, maybe the best ever, [leading to] huge worldwide press,” said Loiacono, who was named one of the Top 100 Marketers by Advertising Age in 1992.
Despite Loiacono’s connection with Falk, it was the Ted Williams Card Company’s director of baseball, Dale Kohler, who suggested including Jordan in their baseball card release.
The Jordan art card by Gardiner was No. 1 in the subset that also featured Derek Jeter, Charles Johnson, Brian Hunter, Brien Taylor and others.
Loiacono said that Williams “loved” the Jordan card.
“He really like Dan Gardiner’s art, especially [the card of] Michael,” he said.
Loiacono selected Gardiner to draw for the TWCC simply because, “I liked his style.” Loiacono and others at Upper Deck had long talked about the artist.
The Jordan card artwork will, no doubt, draw more interest as it is a 1-of-1 NFT, a digital trading card that will be on the Internet forever.
“It is the only one that is certified with a signed affidavit by me. There will never be another. It’s 1-of-1. Only 1,” Loiacono said. “This will be the only Michael Jordan officially licensed MLB NFT by the Ted Williams Card Company, ever.”
Loiacono said he never had the chance to give the card to Jordan himself.
Loiacono selected Goldin to auction the Jordan art due to their long-standing friendship that dates to his days working at Upper Deck.
“Ken [Goldin] worked with me with his brand Classic in 1994 when we did the Ted Williams Card Company Basketball Set. [Through Classic] we licensed athletes like Charles Barkley and Jason Kidd, among others,” Loiacono said. “I worked with Ken and his dad Paul and liked working with him. I respect what he has done [in the hobby], so it seemed only fitting.”
The Ted Williams Card Company dates to 1992 — almost immediately after Loiacono left Upper Deck.
“Ted called and asked if I would like to start the Ted Williams Card Company and also be [his late son] John Henry Williams’ mentor,” Loiacono said. “I agreed and immediately it was funded, and I went to MLB to secure a license. It was easily granted as the company showcased Negro League players, women in baseball, superstars like Jordan, Larry Bird and many of the greatest legends of all time in baseball.”
The company also showcased Williams in a football uniform, created numbered subsets, numbered cases all with 9s (Williams’ number), created certificates signed by Williams and Loiacono for dealers, and much more.
The Ted Williams Card Company aligned with Roger Staubach as its main football player and namesake for football releases.
The Ted Williams Card Company issued two 1993 baseball releases, one 1994 baseball and one 1994 football release, plus 1995 basketball.