Introduction to the
Air Jordan 13
Few shoes in the history of sneakers are as iconic as Air Jordans, and few Jordans are as iconic as the 13, which was released in 1997. Like all but two of the Air Jordan models worn on court by MJ himself, the 13 was designed by Tinker Hatfield. The AJ 13 represents a close collaboration between the designer and the athlete: Hatfield came to Jordan with an idea, but Jordan offered feedback that would shape the final result.
Jordan 13 History and Design: The Black Cat
After designing ten other iterations of the Air Jordan—one each year starting with the 3—Hatfield needed fresh inspiration for the new model. He found that one day while he watched Michael play—suddenly, it all clicked. Jordan’s grace, power, the audacity of his offense, the way he conserved his energy only to spring at the perfect moment: he looked like a panther. Hatfield got to work right away. When he showed the design to Jordan, the story goes, Hatfield referred to his concept as the “Black Cat” and Jordan was floored – Black Cat was his nickname among his closest friends. And so, the 13 was born.
The Black Cat or panther concept was worked into nearly every aspect of the final product by the time of release. It represented not only a big step forward for the brand aesthetically, but technologically as well. The first Nike shoe ever designed on a computer, it includes a number of high-tech features such as a carbon fiber footplate, a holographic logo, and reflective mesh side panels.
Early sketches called for a strap so that Michael could easily adjust the tightness of the shoe on the fly during a game, but after trying on different prototypes, Jordan nixed the idea. He said that the shoe shouldn’t have anything on it that wasn’t necessary. He wanted simplicity and performance—the result was a streamlined, stylish sneaker that was also the lightest Air Jordan Nike had ever produced.
Features of The Black Cat
The holographic logo is a reflective green that imitates the look of a panther’s eyes.
The reflective elements in the mesh mirror the sheen and luster of a wild cat’s fur.
The outsole is uniquely shaped like the pads of a panther’s foot; a striking aesthetic statement to be sure, but also a choice that makes the shoe agile on the court.
This literally game-changing approach – designing the shoe alongside the athlete to ensure it met his on-court needs – was revolutionary. In 1997, shortly before the 13 dropped, Nike spun Jordan out as its own brand, with Tinker Hatfield as creative director and Jordan himself as CEO.
It’s fitting that the 13, which, perhaps more than any other Air Jordan closely reflects the ties between Michael Jordan’s sports and personal personas, was the first model to release under the new brand bearing his name.
Cultural Significance of the AJ 13
The Air Jordan 13, along with the 14 that followed it, were the shoes that Mike wore for his last season on the Chicago Bulls. And while the 14s get all the glory for being on Jordan’s feet for the “Last Shot” (the 13s never had a defining in-game moment of their own), the 13s were what Michael wore for half of the 1998 NBA Finals.
Aside from their role in the last series of MJ’s second 3-peat, the Air Jordan 13s are even better remembered for another reason. They could be seen on the feet of Denzel Washington’s character Jake Shuttlesworth in the Spike Lee film, He Got Game. So closely are the 13s associated with the film that the version used in the film is now sometimes referred to as the “He Got Game” colorway. What’s more, Ray Allen, who played Denzel’s son in the film, is a real-life pro basketball player who wore the 13s for his historic 2011 season game against the Lakers, when he broke Reggie Miller’s all-time record for three-point shots made during a game.
The Air Jordan 13 Collectability: Often Imitated, Never Copied
The Air Jordan 13 is a great collector’s shoe thanks to its role in both basketball and cultural memory, its revolutionary design, and its numerous retro re-releases (2004, 2005, 2008, 2010-2018). Each release has dropped in many colorways, one of the most well-known being the incredibly popular, navy blue Air Jordan 13 “Flint” which was part of the original generation before being re-released in 2005, 2010, and 2020.
This combination of popularity, variety and high production volume make it relatively easy to find a good quality pair, whether new or on the secondary market. Unfortunately, it also means that the shoe is a popular target for counterfeiters.
When looking at a pair of Air Jordan 13s, avoid buying a fraudulent copy by paying attention to small details. One of the easiest ways to spot a fake is to look at the Jumpman logo – fakes almost invariably fail to reproduce the detail of real Air Jordans. Pay special attention to the Jumpman’s fingers and shoelaces, which should be clearly visible and well-defined on a real pair. The same goes for the holographic “panther eye” – the Jumpman in the hologram will be very detailed on a real pair, right down to the wrinkles in his clothes. The real hologram will also show 3D layers, with the Jumpman clearly “above” the number 23, while fakes often flatten the hologram so that everything appears to be on one level. Lastly, the 13s distinctive carbon fiber plate should clearly display a waffle texture when viewed closely under light. Fakes will often use a decal or less detailed surface that is smooth and doesn’t have this pattern.