Michael Jordan memorabilia expert and Co-Founder of Sports Authority Authentication Service, Gerard Starkey, explains why a pair of game-worn basketball shoes are a symbol of the sport
There is no doubt that Michael Jordan is the Greatest of All Time. It would be easy to list an impressive numeric summary of his basketball career or name all his awards and titles, but that wouldn’t do his legacy real justice. Michael Jordan is a phenomenal athlete with a distinctive combination of fundamental soundness, speed, power, artistry, and grace.
All these attributes — in combination with Jordan’s killer instincts and mastery of the ‘clutch moment’ — have resulted in Jordan single-handedly redefining the game of basketball, as well as what it means to be an NBA superstar.
In 2020, The Last Dance documentary, which centres around Jordan’s final season with the Bulls, once again affirmed his dominance of the game. In a sport that is constantly changing and where new stars emerge every season, The Last Dance reminds its viewers of all the unforgettable moments that Jordan had with the Chicago Bulls that remain iconic even today.
As a collector of sports memorabilia, I look for sneakers that capture the full essence of an athlete during the most defining moments of their career — its then that the leather, cotton, and rubber become a piece of art capturing an actual moment in time.
One of these rare artifacts is the last pair of Air Jordan XIIIs in the white/true red, black colourway, that Michael Jordan wore in a competitive NBA game. Jordan laced these sneakers up on 18 April 1998 at the United Center in Chicago for his last regular-season game as a Chicago Bull, as well as his last game against the New York Knicks.
To truly understand their significance and rarity, let’s delve into five key elements that make these Jordan XIII’s so symbolic of the MVPs career.
1 | Game play
The Air Jordan XIIIs were not only an essential part of Michael Jordan’s final season as a Chicago Bull, but also a key element of The Last Dance and sixth NBA championship. During his closing 1997-98 season, Jordan averaged 28.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists over 82 games. Jordan was selected to play in his 12th All-Star games. He also won his fifth MVP award, his sixth Finals MVP award, and his sixth NBA championship.A pair of Michael Jordan game-worn and signed Air Jordan XIII ‘He’s Got Game’ Sneakers. Nike, 1998. Estimate: $300,000-500,000. Offered in Handbags x Hype: The Luxury Remix on 24-29 November 2021 at Christie’s online.
When Jordan wore this pair of sneakers on 18 April 1998, he dropped 44 points against the Knicks. Twenty-two of these points were from the free throw line — his second highest free throw total in a single game. Not only did these points help the Bulls clinch a 111-109 victory over the Knicks and a playoff berth, but they also secured Jordan his 10th and final scoring title — a record number to this day.
2 | Historical significance
These shoes capture the essence of The Last Dance season. At the time, Jordan was facing a lot of pressure surrounding his future in the game. The 1997-98 season had begun amidst speculation that long-time Bulls’ coach, Phil Jackson, as well as several key players including Jordan and Scottie Pippen would be leaving Chicago after the season.
The press was eager to find out what Jordan thought about the Bulls’ management, the team’s rebuilding, and his own looming retirement. Looking back at pre-game interviews, it’s clear that pressure was riding on Jordan.
A pair of Michael Jordan game-worn and signed Air Jordan XIII ‘He’s Got Game’ Sneakers. Nike, 1998. Estimate: $300,000-500,000. Offered in Handbags x Hype: The Luxury Remix on 24-29 November 2021 at Christie’s online
Jordan’s final season as a Chicago Bull was filled with drama and unmatched athleticism, and the Bull’s long-time rivalry with the Knicks undoubtedly played into that. Led by Patrick Ewing and Allan Houston, the Knicks were a formidable component. And yet, the New York team proved no match for the Bulls, losing all four clashes.
The final clash, of course, came on 18 April 1998, when Jordan was wearing these Air Jordan XIIIs. The Air Jordan XIIIs would be a staple of the regular season and play-offs. However, for the Finals against the Utah Jazz, Jordan wore both XIIIs and XIVs. The infamous last shot that ended the era was taken in the black red XIVs aptly named ‘The Last Shot’ XIVs.
3 | Provenance
The provenance surrounding these shoes is that of legend. Following the 18 April game against the Knicks, Jordan gave his game-worn sneakers to NBA Hall of Famer, Isiah Thomas, who was a commentator that evening. Throughout their time in the league together, Jordan and Thomas maintained a heated rivalry that was amplified even more in the rivalry against their respective teams, the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons.
However, the fact that Jordan gave Thomas the shoes from his last regular-season game and dual signed them captures a great deal of respect for his rival. The shoes were subsequently given to Thomas’ son Joshua as a birthday gift.
4 | Shoe size, tagging, and overall wear
Shoe size, tagging, and overall wear are an important part of the authentication process of a pair of game-worn basketball sneakers. The shoe tags have been inspected and are the correct size for Jordan, who wore a US13.5 game shoe towards the end of his career. They’re also MJ sample tagged appropriately.A pair of Michael Jordan game-worn and signed Air Jordan XIII ‘He’s Got Game’ Sneakers. Nike, 1998. Estimate: $300,000-500,000. Offered in Handbags x Hype: The Luxury Remix on 24-29 November 2021 at Christie’s online
Additionally, the overall wear and lacing is typical of how Jordan would lace-up and moved across the court. These examinations support the authenticity of the pair, and the markings on the sneakers capture the battles that Jordan was having on the basketball court.
5 | Photo-matching
Photo-matching is another important — and exciting — component of authenticating and discovering the background of a game-worn pair of sneakers. Sports Authority Authentication Services (SAAS) are honoured to be able to review a pair of Michael Jordan gamers of this calibre — especially given that every parameter checks out.
For this pair we’ve been able to confirm a multi-photo, multi-facet, multi-point photo-match from the 18 April game at the United Center. We have been able to pin these sneakers to in-game photos, bench photos, and the final photograph of Jordan walking out of a regular-season game as a Chicago Bull.
These Air Jordan XIIIs are a superb Michael Jordan artifact. A sports item of this distinction and quality is extremely rare. The pair embodies The Last Dance season, and the emotions associated with the retirement of one of the greatest basketball superstars ever to have walked out on the court. That is why the leather, suede, rubber, and plastic transforms into an actual moment in time — a story that will last forever.