When you talk about disparate inspirations for a sneaker, you can’t get any more different than a panther and a golf ball. But those are exactly what Tinker Hatfield
looked to when designing the Air Jordan 13 (Air Jordan XIII). Coincidentally, “Black Cat” was a Jordan nickname that Hatfield wasn’t even aware of when he was designing the shoe — a bit of synergy that perhaps is inevitable when two guys work so closely for a decade. The “cat’s eye” jewel on the ankles featured Jumpman holograms, and the outsole was paw-like.
As for the second bit of inspiration, the uppers were dimpled in a manner commensurate with Jordan’s favorite sport (yes, favorite). The idea of the dimpling on a golf ball is to diminish drag and increase flight time. In 1987, this would have been entirely unnecessary. In 1997, however, it may have been worth trying. Not that MJ was ever entirely ground-bound, as countless centers from all generations could attest, but his game was becoming one more based on skill rather than “elevate and decide in the air.” And with it’s Zoom Air cushioning and sleeker construction, the Air Jordan 13 was more of a guard-friendly shoe than its immediate predecessor.
Like the Air Jordan 11, the Air Jordan 13 featured different colorways made from different materials. And like the Air Jordan 5 (Air Jordan V), the Air Jordan XIII featured a little extra pop. While the initial model was all full-grain leather, ensuing colorways featured suede details as well as synthetic panels highlighted by reflective dots. Retro models would do away with the 3M touches, much to the despair of the Jordan purists. And while he would once again showcase the shoe in the NBA
Finals, Jordan’s biggest moment of the ’98 postseason (and perhaps his career) would come in another shoe—and this time the early debut came for a good reason.