The Best 'Black Cat' Air Jordans

All-black Jordans are a fan favorite, and these are the best of the best.

The ‘Black Cat’ Air Jordan 4 retro from 2020. Via Nike

Michael Jordan was known in his playing days as the Black Cat—NBA peers gave him the moniker because of how smooth, fierce, and agile he was on the court. It was also the inspiration for the Air Jordan 13, designed by Tinker Hatfield, as the sole unit of the shoe was made to resemble a cat’s paw. There was even an alternate Air Jordan 13 “Tinker” that has been labeled as the “Black Cat.”

But most sneaker enthusiasts know the “Black Cat” name from the all-black colorways that have been transferred over to many Air Jordans. It’s been put on the 13, which was an obvious choice, but more notably on the Air Jordan 3 and 4, which were contrasted by the “Pure Money” (all-white) versions of the shoes too. In recent times, the Air Jordan 4 “Black Cat” has become one of the most popular Air Jordans, shooting up in resale value years after its release. It never had that status when it first released, but it’s aged well with time.

Now we know that all of these aren’t true “Black Cat” editions, but we tried to include all of the Jordans that exude the all-black design language the best. For this list, we cast a wide net for “Black Cat” Air Jordans, featuring some colorways that are mostly black but were never technically known as “Black Cat” retros. These are the best of them.

10. Air Jordan 13 "Black Cat"

Release Date: January 21, 2017

If there is one shoe most worthy of the “Black Cat” nickname, it might be this one. After all, the dimpled overlay on the Air Jordan 13 and its signature holographic bubble on the lateral heel are inspired by a panther’s paw and glowing eyes. As perfectly as this all-black colorway suits the Air Jordan 13, this wasn’t an OG offering when the shoe hit shelves in 1997. This pair actually made its retail debut in 2017. It even has a roaring panther’s face printed on the insoles so that there’s no confusion about the theme. Despite all of this, we just honestly aren’t as eager to lace up a pair of 13s as we are some of the models higher up on this list—hence its lower position. —Mike DeStefano

9. Air Jordan 10 "Stealth"

Release Date: July 23, 2005

The Air Jordan 10 doesn’t get enough love. Think about it—the most notable colorway is probably the “Shadow,” maybe the “Chicagos,” and the city editions were cool, too. But they’re far from the S-tier of Jordans. So much so that I forgot that these triple-black “Stealth” Air Jordan 10s released in 2005. They’re pretty good. Not amazing, but good enough for those who like all-black sneakers. There was a similar pair with a white outsole that came out in 2012. That pair is likely more nostalgic to most, but the white sole throws it off. There’s also an OVO x Air Jordan 10, but we put the 12 on this list, and they’re essentially the same shoe. So we’ll go with these. —Matt Welty

8. Air Jordan 11 “Cap and Gown”

Release Date: May 26, 2018

As Jordan Brand tends to do for newer colorways, it took the inspiration of the Air Jordan 11 very literally for this 2018 release. As the story goes, Michael Jordan wanted a sneaker that he could wear more places than just on the basketball court, particularly with a nice suit. That’s partly how the 11’s trademark patent leather shroud came to be. Dubbed the “Cap and Gown” (and unofficially referred to as the “Prom Nights” by some), this all-black colorway was meant to be dressed up. Even though these are a bit more suitable than the average Air Jordan 11, thanks to premium elements like the use of suede on the upper instead of ballistic mesh, and a black metal Jumpman replacing the usual stitched version found on the collar, we aren’t here to recommend you break these out at the next wedding you attend. Don’t be that guy. Just buy some dress shoes like an adult. Nonetheless, you can’t go wrong with an all-black Air Jordan 11, even if this isn’t officially a “Black Cat.” –Mike DeStefano 

7. Air Jordan 1 "Co.Jp"

Release Date: October 1, 2001

Making a sneaker exclusive to Japan, individually numbered, and limited to just 3,000 is kind of a cheat code set to making it enticing. This Air Jordan 1 benefited from all those characteristics, yes, but still looks reasonably good on the merits of the colorway (or lack thereof) and materials. The black leather has a tumbled feel, which comes off as a bit more premium than the standard materials used on Air Jordans in the 2000s. While the black Air Jordan 1 “Japan” loses some points for having a Jumpman on the tongue and not being a full blackout colorway, it’s still a fine expression of how good Jordans can look sans any real coloring. —Brendan Dunne

6. Air Jordan 11 IE Low “Referee”

Release Date: September 26, 2015

This is a sneaker nerd’s shoe. The Air Jordan 11 IE Low is a weird tease of an Air Jordan 11. It doesn’t resemble a Jordan 11 at all, except for sharing the same tooling. But it was still designed by Tinker Hatfield and worn by Michael Jordan. The IE stands for “International Exclusive,” and the shoe lacks the patent leather of the traditional 11 and has a see-through mesh instead. The sneakers were first made in 1995–96 for select referees to wear in NBA action. The shoe existed as a piece of sneaker lore for 20 years before being officially released in 2015. It’s not quite a “Black Cat” Jordan as it has a red Jumpman logo on the tongue, but it’s still important in the history of black Jordans. —Matt Welty

5. Olivia Kim x Air Jordan 4

Release Date: November 8, 2019

Before the standard “Black Cat” Air Jordan 4 retro hit at the beginning of 2020, Jordan Brand closed out 2019 with a premium spin on the colorway. Designed with Nordstrom’s Olivia Kim, the pair came as part of a “No Cover” collection, which also included the Nike Air Footscape, Air Force 1, Air Mowabb, and Air Max 98. For the Air Jordan 4, Kim took the stealthy all-black palette and covered the entire upper in a faux pony hair. To make the pair even more special, it marked the first time the Nike Air branding appeared on the heel of a women’s-exclusive Air Jordan 4. Much like the 2020 “Black Cat” retro, pairs of this 2019 Olivia Kim collab have become scarce over the years, although the resale value for hers isn’t quite as high as the normal pair. Still, this is a take on the “Black Cat” that people are clearly coveting years after its release. —Riley Jones

4. OVO x Air Jordan 12

Release Date: October 1, 2016

Viewed strictly as a Drake collaboration, the black OVO x Air Jordan 12 can feel like somewhat of a disappointment. It’s hard to fault anyone hoping for a little more excitement from one of the era’s biggest stars when it comes to Jordan Brand collaborations. But taken at face value, it’s a luxurious spin on the Air Jordan 12 with enough subtle details to feel like it’s actually special. The faux stingray overlay nods to the exotic reptile texture found on the originals, giving its existence more purpose than a standard material upgrade. And the lack of overt OVO branding serves a dual purpose of keeping the shoe clean while making it wearable even for those who aren’t Drake fans. —Zac Dubasik

3. Air Jordan 3 “Black Cat”

Release Date: June 16, 2007

While it remains to be seen if rumors of a “Black Cat” Air Jordan 3 retro will prove true, the pair is still one of the best spins on the theme yet. Originally released in 2007, it came a month after its all-white “Pure Money” Air Jordan 3 counterpart. Unlike the all-nubuck “Black Cat” Air Jordan 4, which preceded the 3s in 2006, the Jordan 3 mixed up the materials, swapping a traditionally smooth leather mudguard for patent leather. The elephant print was given some contrast, allowing the shoe’s signature element to pop, and the pair also came with shoelaces printed with the pattern—a first for the Air Jordan 3. It’s tough to make a pair of all-black sneakers stand out, but the mix of textures and added details make this pair one of the best “Black Cat” Air Jordans. We’ll see if the rumored retro can stack up. —Riley Jones

2. Kaws x Air Jordan 4

Release Date: November 27, 2017

The black Kaws x Air Jordan 4 may be cheating our criteria a bit thanks to its translucent, glow-in-the-dark outsole, but its all-black upper fits the “Black Cat” theme otherwise. What really sets this sneaker apart, though, aside from the fact it’s a collaboration with Kaws, is how much contrast the shoe achieves thanks to its use of multiple materials and applications. The combination of leather, highly textured suede, nubuck, waxed laces, and tonal embroidery create something far more visually interesting than a typical triple-black makeup. In many ways, it’s the antithesis of what all-black shoes are about, thanks to the hype element of its collaborator and the way it reads as something more than “just” a black sneaker. But the way it can be appreciated on multiple levels, the closer it’s examined, is what makes it so good and land so high on this list. —Zac Dubasik

1. Air Jordan 4 "Black Cat"

Release Date: May 20, 2006

It would be foolish to opine here about the mastery of this colorway, the thoughtful execution and deep storytelling that enrich the shoe. Clever color choices and smart references can elevate a sneaker, yes, but that’s not the point here. The “Black Cat” Air Jordan 4 is good because it’s simple; it doesn’t need any of that. It’s a plain, somewhat boring, extremely hard shoe. It’s one of the best Air Jordan designs done in a straightforward combination that can read subtle, menacing, or even elegant.

While the shoe seems obvious today, doing an Air Jordan in all black wasn’t quite so standard when this sneaker debuted. The first version of the nubuck “Black Cat” Air Jordan 4 released in 2006, when Jordan Brand was still learning how far it could push the boundaries of what were then commonly known as “retro plus” colorways. There were some misses in that era. Here, instead of imagining the Jordan 4 in blazing, bright shades, Jordan did the opposite, switching the lights off and letting the silhouette shine in the dark. The “Black Cat” Air Jordan 4 has only been back once since then, on the better-shaped 2020 retro. Despite being pegged to a couple specific years, though, the sneaker manages to feel timeless in its austerity. —Brendan Dunne