Had 1998 been a normal Bulls season—and the 1998 NBA Finals been a normal NBA Finals—the black and red Air Jordan XIII would have wound up one of the most significant Air Jordans of all-time. Neither, of course. It was The Last Dance, the final Finals, and for that, Michael Jordan had to do something special. He broke out the Air Jordan XIV long in advance of its release, and was wearing it in Game Six when he [insert appropriate verb here] Bryon Russell and buried the final shot of his Bulls career. The shoe he should have been wearing re-releases this weekend.
In a way, it would have been better had Jordan stuck to the script. Up until the Finals he had, wearing the black and white Jordan XIII at home and the black and red pair on the road. It was the same thing he’d done the previous year with the Air Jordan XII—whose colorways were mirrored by the XIII, a white and black launch colorway, followed by white and red and a non-Bulls blue, then black and white (worn first in the All-Star Game) and black and red. Had he worn the black and red XIIIs in Game Six, the 3M-frosted side panels would have lit up like Broadway on the many shots of his final shot.
Instead, Jordan wore the upcoming XIV, which he had quietly debuted in Chicago in Game 3. He wore them again in Game 4, before returning to the XIII for Game 5. The XIV wasn’t the only outlier shoe he wore in the Finals either—Jordan started Game 2 in a pair of black Air Jordan XIII lows before switching back into the black/red mids for the second half. The XIVs would eventually release on March 27, 1999, the XIII lows Jordan wore wouldn’t release at all.
While it was robbed of historical on-court significance by Jordan’s decision to pull off the ultimate “you don’t got these” moment, the Air Jordan XIII still occupies a significant place in Air Jordan history. It was one of the first where different colorways were constructed from different materials, with side panels made from synthetics (Flint, black/red, navy/black lows), leather (white/black, white/red, black/white) and nubuck (Chutney lows). The design both embodied his “Black Cat” nickname and paid homage to his golf addiction with its dimpled upper. And the reflective 3M material dotting the panels of the black/red pair harkened back to the silvery tongues of 1990’s Air Jordan V.
The reflective tongues of the V bounced back countless flashes, just as designer Tinker Hatfield intended, as Jordan dunked and defended his way to the Eastern Conference Finals. The side panels of the black and red XIII did the same only further, as Jordan and his Bulls vanquished the Nets in three, the Hornets in five and the Pacers in a hard-fought seven. Unlike the Vs, the XIIIs made it to the NBA’s biggest stage, as Jordan laced them up for his sixth NBA Finals. In any other year, they would have been on his feet for the biggest moment of all.