If any Air Jordan was bound for failure, it was the twice-jinxed XIII. But, with his audacious design for the shoe, Tinker Hatfield (and company) proved that when you’re at the top of your game, you make your own luck.
[Note: With a couple of Air Jordan XIII Retros due this month, it seemed like a good time to resurrect this review, which was originally published back in January 2005. For specifics on release dates, check Sneaker News.]
For the superstitious among us, the Air Jordan XIII had a couple of big strikes going against it before even making it off of Tinker Hatfield’s drawing board.
First, to the horror of the triskaidekaphobic Jordan lovers of the world, it marked the 13th shoe in the Air Jordan line. Second, a major source of inspiration for the shoe’s design came from the Black Panther, which is essentially a giant, black cat—another sign of doom and gloom to a certain segment of the population.
Well, luckily enough for the shoeheads of the world, it appears that neither His Airness nor Hatfield are superstitious types, because the black-cat-motivated, baker’s-dozen-denominated charm of a shoe they cooked up turned out to be the best J yet (as of its release in late 1997).
What makes the Air Jordan XIII so special? Well, there is, of course, its appearance, which really does manage to exude a sense of feline power and grace—particularly in the black/varsity red colorway tested for this review. Then there’s the fact that many thought the XIII would be the last shoe worn by MJ as a professional in the Association. You may remember that Jordan retired for the second, and most assumed final, time following the conclusion of the 1997 - 1998 NBA season. Though he would provide fans with a very early preview of his next namesake shoe by rocking the Air Jordan XIV through the ’98 Finals, the XIII was the shoe MJ wore for the bulk of what was widely expected to be his ultimate season.
But looks and sentimentality aside, the Air Jordan XIII stands out to me because it delivers the performance goods like nothing that had come before it. Its Phylon midsole, which sensuously wraps up and around the base of the foot, is augmented with Zoom Air units under both the forefoot and heel. This combo delivers excellent impact protection, ridiculously good cushioning response and a speedy, low-to-the-court feel. The XIII actually wasn’t the first Jordan to employ Nike’s hyper-responsive, low-profile Zoom Air (that distinction belongs to the Air Jordan XII), but it was the first to truly bring its benefits to life.
The XIII’s organically shaped, multi-segment outsole also contributes to the shoe’s unique feel underfoot by working with the sculpted midsole to cradle and support your dogs. Stability is further bolstered by the XIII’s excellent fit: I felt absolutely no movement of my foot—either side-to-side or front-to-back—within the shoe.
But the XIII is not without its faults—through my two weeks with the shoe, I experienced two persistent problems. First, though the design of its outsole contributed greatly to the XIII’s overall stability, it also imparted a somewhat clunky feel. There were more than a handful of occasions when I felt that its funky shape and hard-edged perimeter got in the way of what I wanted my feet to do.
The second problem, also outsole related, was that traction proved to be a consistent disappointment. Even on clean courts, I found it to be only a shade better than mediocre; on less well-maintained courts, it was a lost cause. This was doubly disappointing given that the XIII’s upper is more than capable of keeping the foot locked down through sharp cuts and hard stops. To pull out an automotive metaphor, the XIII is like a sports car with loads of power and a perfectly tuned suspension that’s riding on minivan tires. It’s still a great car, but its wheels won’t allow you to make the most of its high-revving potential.
So, the Air Jordan XIII is not perfect—not by today’s standards nor by those of late ‘97/early ‘98. But it was then and is still now an audacious offering that fulfills every facet of what an Air Jordan should be. Shoes like the III, V, XI and XIII provide us with an indelible link to a particular time and place in MJ’s career—they are, in a sense, pieces of living history. But the XIII is no relic to be squirreled away in an attic or garage: it’s a hard-core performance proposition. $150 is a lot to drop on any shoe, no doubt, but the Air Jordan XIII is most certainly not just any shoe; it’s one that sneakerheads 10 years from now will seek out with as much fervor as those of today, and if you see value in that, you’ll see value in the lucky XIII.
Who’s Worn It
Michael Jordan (G- Chicago Bulls)