No sneaker in Michael Jordan’s signature Air Jordan collection has a more personal connection to its namesake than the Air Jordan 13. For starters, it was the last shoe Jordan wore for a complete season with the Chicago Bulls. And it's also the only model with design elements specifically tuned to one of Michael’s nicknames: “Black Cat.” Want to learn more about the Air Jordan 13? Continue reading our latest edition of Know Your Air Jordan History.
As we’ve seen throughout clips of “The Last Dance,” Michael Jordan wore the Air Jordan 13 “He Got Game” during the early portion of the ‘97-98 NBA season with the Chicago Bulls. But the silhouette didn’t receive an official retail release until 1998, and the white based design with black accents wasn’t called “He Got Game” then. It was just known as the launch colorway of Jordan’s latest signature shoe. In total, five colorways were originally released of the standard high-top; "He Got Game," "Bred," "Chicago," "Playoffs," and "Flint," along with two low-tops; "Chutney" and "Brave Blue."
By the time the Air Jordan 13 came to be, sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield was focused on peeling back the layers of Jordan’s personality—a common practice used in today’s sneaker world, but an outside-the-box idea in 1998. Inspired by both the black panther and Jordan’s “Black Cat” moniker given to him by close friends, the Air Jordan 13 is awash with nods to the ferocious feline. The dotted embroidery of the upper is reminiscent of the base of a panther’s whiskers, and the “paw pad” outsole is designed after the cunning animal’s paw. Lastly, the signature feature of the Air Jordan 13, the circular hologram on the heel, is covered in a greenish-yellow tint like a panther’s eye. The inspiration came full circle in 2017 when Jordan Brand dropped the Jordan 13 "Black Cat."
Like every Air Jordan that came before it, the Air Jordan 13 was backed by Nike’s latest-and-greatest footwear technology of 1998. We’re talking about Zoom Air in both the forefoot and heel, a lightweight carbon fiber midfoot plate, and the aforementioned grippy “paw pad” traction outsole. At the time of its release, many considered it the most comfortable and best performing Air Jordan yet. And truth be told, you can still hit the court in comfort with a pair.
Leather vs. Mesh
Depending on which colorway of the Air Jordan 13 you opted for back in 1998, you either got a variation with full-grain leather, suede, or reflective-backed mesh. Designs like the Air Jordan 13 “Playoffs” and “He Got Game” were fully dressed in leather. The “Flint” and “Bred” editions featured reflective accents in the mesh upper.
Thanks to films like “Do the Right Thing,” “Space Jam,” and “Blue Chips,” sneakers, and more specifically Air Jordans, appearing on the feet of prominent movie characters was hardly a new occurrence in 1998. So why do we remember the Air Jordan 13 that appeared in “He Got Game” so well? It could be the captivating scene in which they make a cameo appearance. Or it could be that, by the time the movie was in theaters during the summer of 1998, it was all but concluded that Jordan was on his way out of the NBA. Either way, the Air Jordan 13 “He Got Game” will go down in history as one of the greatest shoes to ever appear on the silver screen.
On Court Accomplishments
The Air Jordan 13 is tied to many memorable feats and accomplishments that took place over the course of Jordan’s final season with the Bulls. He debuted the “Playoffs” colorway a full two months early during the All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. Taking home MVP honors, Jordan poured in 23 points and came within a few assists and rebounds of a triple-double. He posted a season high 49 points against the lowly Los Angeles Clippers while wearing the Air Jordan 13 “Chicago.”
Hardened sneaker fans and collectors are quick to name the Air Jordan 13 as the last great shoe worn by Jordan. Some even have gone as far as labeling it the last “official” shoe of the Jordan-Bulls era, despite the fact that His Airness laced up the Air Jordan 14 “Last Shot” for his final game in a Bulls uniform. Being the penultimate model that Michael Jordan wore for an entire season with the Bulls only furthers its appeal. But does it tell an accurate story of the Air Jordan history? Jordan returned to the NBA for the ‘01-02 NBA season and debuted Air Jordans 17 and 18 during his time with the Washington Wizards. Depending on who you talk to, it’s almost as if it never happened. Each side of the argument offers plenty of valid opinions. But make no mistake about it, there was nothing unlucky about this number thirteen.