Starting Lineup action figures were actually conceived by former NFL wide receiver John McInally, who was known for his savvy intinution. He was the only player to ever get a perfect score on the Wonderlic test, an aptitude test all NFL prospects are given. In a toy store, McInally noticed all the G.I. Joe action figures, but none of famous athletes. His vision of famous athletes on toy shelves became a reality in 1986, the last year he’d play professional football.
These figures also wisely included a trading card in the box, as the late 1980's was in the midst of an explosive boom in that hobby. The combination of a toy and a card made for a perfect pairing, and they flew off the shelves.
In 1989, Starting Lineup released their NBA Slam Dunk Series, which featured NBA legends such as Michael Jordan or Larry Bird. What was special about these action figures is that they were more like figurines. Each player would be shown dunking on an NBA hoop, even with the hardwood beneath their feet.
By the early 1990’s it looked as though Starting Lineup had issued and sold an action figure of every significant sports star. With a lack of innovation, people began to lose interest in the collectibles. Today, some of the Starting Lineup figurines that have a low population count are heavily sought after by collectors.
Since Legacy One Inc. acquired the trademark for Starting Lineup in 2017, physical Starting Lineup action figures have generally been exclusive to sporting event giveaways, I.E if you are one of the first 5,000 people in the stadium you get an action figure of the team's best player.