The Last Dance: Michael Jordan's 1997-98 Sneaker Lineup
Detailing the Chicago Bulls’ famed 1997/98 NBA Championship season, ESPN’s new documentary The Last Dance dives headfirst into one of the most infamous stanzas in sporting history: Michael Jordan’s last season with the franchise he brought to the fore.
Considering his undeniable influence both on and off the court, His Airness has been always been a curious case, with his exploits from the locker room and his personal life shrouded in mystery. Nevertheless, when it came to the footwear, MJ’s signature sneakers remain as revered and recollected as his on-court exploits.
Yet another Tinker Hatfield masterpiece, the Air Jordan 13 exemplified Jordan’s ‘Black Cat’ moniker, bringing forth a fierceness never-before-seen in a basketball sneaker. If The Last Dance has reminded us of anything, it’s that legends stand the test of time – and the Air Jordan 13 is undeniably one them.
The Black Cat
Thirteen certainly wasn’t an unlucky number for MJ, with the Air Jordan 13 bolstering his famed signature line in ferocious fashion. Going into his last season with the Bulls, Jordan flaunted the feline-inspired court shoe throughout the 1997/98 campaign in an assortment of Chicago-themed colourways.
Tinker modelled the AJ13 on a black panther, finessing a unique outsole pattern based on the shape of a paw, and dressing the ankle with a holographic jewel, mimicking a cat’s eye. It was a divergent design, unlike anything the Jordan line had seen before, but performance clearly wasn’t compromised.
Jordan gamed both Low and Mid variants of the AJ13, favouring the latter during most his 28.7 PPG-averaging season. The fan-favourite ‘He Got Game’ colourway was the regular season weapon, made even more famous with its prominence in Spike Lee’s film of the same name. Additionally, a ‘Cherry’ number echoed the ‘He Got Game’ white leather upper, but gave Jordan a fierier option for away games.
Come Playoff time, things took darker turn, with Jordan revisiting the black joints he debuted during 1998’s All Star Weekend. Aptly dubbed the ‘Playoff’ colourway, the sneaker’s murdered-out upper perhaps foreshadowed Jordan’s final AJ13 scheme for the season: the famed ‘Bred’, which was his main gamer during the Finals.
Chicago to NYC
Jordan’s long-standing rivalry with the New York Knicks came to a grand climax on March 8, 1998, when he rewound the clock to lace up a pair of the OG Air Jordan 1 ‘Chicago’ in his last-ever game at Madison Square Garden (as a Bull).
‘Well, I was joking around with my wife at home, and I said, we’re going to New York, might as well bring back the old shoes,’ said Jordan after the game.
‘It’s been a long time since I wore them, and it’s kinda fun to come back here and play and to remember some of the old days and some of the games I’ve had here, and the shoes are a part of that. My feet are killing me, but it was fun.’
The sore feet clearly didn’t hold him back, though – he dropped 42 points, leading the Bulls to a 102-89 victory.
The Last Shot
Jordan’s Championship-clinching shot in Game 6 against the Utah Jazz will forever be one of the most replayed sporting moments in history. The memories of the steal off Karl Malone, the icing of the clock, the crossover on Bryon Russell and, finally, the ball swishing through the net all combine to remind us of MJ’s greatness. For many sneakerheads, however, the brooding black Air Jordan 14s will no doubt bring the most nostalgia.
Despite being the last-ever signature sneaker Jordan wore as a Bull, the AJ14 ushered in a new era of performance for Jordan Brand, with a low-cut build for speed, dual zoom units, and unmistakable mesh vents.
Jordan debuted the AJ14 in the second half of Game 5. He may have been ‘running on fumes’ according to the broadcast crew, but the AJ14 was quite the opposite, packed with sports car inspiration and class-leading performance. Interestingly, Tinker had told Jordan not to wear the ‘Prototype’ sneaker, but he couldn’t help himself – the rest is history.