Examining the Rumor That Michael Jordan Demanded Topps Remove Him From an Embarrassing Trading Card Depiction

The upcoming Super Bowl matchup between Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady may make some sports fans think of Michael Jordan.

Jordan played professional baseball, not football, so why would his name come up? Brady has dominated the NFL for nearly 20 years, and Mahomes is shredding opposing defenses at a historic rate.

Both have changed their games, similar to how Jordan did the NBA in the 1980s and 1990s. No one was bigger than Jordan, which is why an internet rumor still exists that he selfishly demanded the Topps trading card company remove him from an embarrassing photo.

Trading cards have long been a staple of sports

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From Honus Wagner to T.J. Warren, sports fans have long celebrated trading cards.

Trading cards represented a way for fans to treasure their favorite players and teams. A Mickey Mantle baseball card during the New York Yankees’ dominance in the 1950s meant everything in the tri-state area.

Sports cards have enjoyed a revival in recent years. People use YouTube and social media to share what they find when they open trading packs, whether they bought them online or at a local store.

Sports video games, such as Madden NFL and NBA 2K, have even created game modes centered around the concept of collecting cards. For example, a Madden player who has a Joe Montana card can use it online on their ‘Ultimate Team’ against another player with a Michael Vick card.

Topps removed Michael Jordan from one featuring John Starks

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Over the years, trading card companies have used wire photos — usually from an outlet like Getty Images — as the selected image on a card.

Take the Michael Jordan-John Starks card, for example. Starks, a star on the New York Knicks, dunked over Jordan and Bulls big man Horace Grant during the 1993 Eastern Conference finals.

Topps used a photo of that dunk on Starks’ card in the 1993-94 Stadium Club set (#116). That card featured Jordan with his side to the camera.

According to Sports Collectors Daily, Topps re-used that photo in Starks’ 2000-01 Finest card, the Refractor parallel and the autographed version. Interestingly, Jordan was missing from the new cards.

Why did Topps remove Michael Jordan from the card?

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When creating a trading card, the companies understandably might have to do some cropping or editing.

Still, it might seem strange that Topps would remove Michael Jordan from a card several years later. That led to rumors that Jordan demanded Topps alter the card to save him some embarrassment.

That’s not quite what happened, though. Jordan had an exclusive contract with Upper Deck, another trading card company, which meant he could only appear in their products.

To avoid any legal issues, Topps edited Jordan out of the photo. However, whether or not Jordan pulled some strings so that Topps produced no more cards of him being dunked on is another conversation worthy of speculation.

Still, it seems more likely that Topps acted out of their own self-interest. According to Sports Collectors Daily, Upper Deck sued Panini America in January 2020 “over images of Michael Jordan that appear in the background of three sets released by Panini.”

A judge dismissed a motion for dismissal in June 2020.

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