Schooled: How ‘He Got Game’ Helped Make the Air Jordan 13 a Classic

One of the hardest projects to execute in Hollywood is a worthwhile sports flick. Usually corny, often over the top, and in most cases, just plain awful, sports movies rarely have a lasting impact. Every now and then, though, a sports-inspired flick comes along that is both believable and powerful enough to keep people talking long after the end credits have rolled.

In 1998, director Spike Lee accomplished the rare feat when he teamed up with Denzel Washington and Ray Allen for the hoops classic, He Got Game. Through the eyes of Jesus Shuttlesworth, played surprisingly well by Ray Allen, Lee shined a convincing light on the relationship between an incarcerated father and his son, corruption in college basketball recruiting, and the trust issues a teenaged kid faces when he is being pulled in a thousand different directions. Granted, the plot sticks to the sports movie script in a sense that it is a bit over the top and features the predictable big game at the end (to its credit, Game does put a twist on the cliche). Still, He Got Game holds up and remains one of the best hoop flicks of all time thanks to a great performance from Washington, a realistic look at the blue-chip recruiting world, and the director’s ability to bring hoops culture and fashion to the forefront.

At the height of the baggy jeans era, He Got Game showcased the style and flair of the African-American youth. With his pulse on the culture, Lee laced the movie’s soundtrack with great hip-hop, had characters rolling around in drop-top Benzes and Lexus cars, put Jesus on the cover of SLAM during the magazine’s hey-day, brought on notable basketball players and college coaches as bit actors, had Jesus rockin’ Foamposites and 4XL Lugz shirts, and finally, featured one of his favorite objects: the latest Air Jordan XIII release.

This weekend at Champs Sports, the XIII is returning in another new colorway, aptly nicknamed the “Barons.” If we know anything about the XIII and how it’s perceived in the culture, with its incredible upper, that unique hologram, and the panther paw print outsole that sets it apart, it’s going to vanish rather quickly. Every sneakerhead is going to be in a mad rush to cop on Saturday, whether they’re obsessed with Jordans or just want the next big thing. Just look at He Got Game for an example.

Out of prison to persuade his son to attend the warden’s alma mater in exchange for a shorter sentence, Jake Shuttlesworth makes the local sneaker store one of his first stops. Without hesitation, Jake asks to see the newly released Jordan XIII that costs “$139…one-fiddy with tax.” The look of pure joy on the elder Shuttlesworth’s face when he is handed the sneaker is something anyone who loves the Js can relate to. From that point on, the XIII pops up throughout the flick. When father and son meet at the Coney Island boardwalk, Jesus can’t help but ogle at his dad’s fresh XIIIs, probably more out of suspicion than awe. During the now iconic one-on-one battle in the park between the Shuttlesworths, Jake falls to Jesus while wearing the XIII.

While subtle, anyone who pays attention to sneaker and basketball culture realizes that the sneaker isn’t just something Jake wears. Rocking the latest Jordans is a symbol of status, which is ironic considering Jake is technically a prisoner, and draws immediate attention everywhere he goes. Few other sneakers can turn heads for the right reasons like an Air Jordan can. After spending time behind bars, getting the XIIIs helped Jake to feel like a somewhat normal member of society.

Of course, this was not the first time Spike featured a Jordan release in one of his films. In his first film, Do The Right Thing, Spike dedicates an entire scene to a scuffed up pair of Jordan IVs, a pair that this time costs “A hunnid bucks…$108 with tax!”

The mutual impact Spike Lee and Michael Jordan have had on each other’s careers cannot be understated. Starring as Mars Blackmon in numerous Nike and Jordan Brand commercials, Lee was instrumental in the branding of Jordan’s sneakers while Jordan helped Spike earn more notoriety and credibility by working with the director. The two have also collaborated on Jordan sneakers, releasing multiple Js inspired by Mars Blackmon. With the XIIIs playing a prominent role in He Got Game, Lee was likely paying homage to Jordan as a nod to Jordan’s career and the relationship between the two. Or it could have been something as simple as Lee showing his love for Jordans. Regardless, the 1997-98 NBA season was thought to be Jordan’s victory lap, making the tip of the hat timely.

Last year, Jordan released a “He Got Game” version of the Jordan XIII, a sneaker identical to the original ‘97 release. Ray Allen, who has been a member of Team Jordan for pretty much his entire career, had a little fun on a January night when Allen’s Heat met the Nets. Thanks to smart planning by Allen and Jordan, Hollywood and reality collided and He Got Game came full circle.

With rumors swirling that a He Got Game sequel could be in the works, Allen touched the floor in Brooklyn wearing a Miami Heat jersey with “Shuttlesworth” across the back and “He Got Game” Jordan XIIIs on his feet. With Denzel Washington and Spike Lee watching from courtside, fictional father watched his fictional son playout the hometown hero role. Unsurprisingly, the Internet went nuts and for fans of both the movie and hoops culture, the moment was monumental. He Got Game’s direct impact on basketball had hit the biggest stage and the Jordan XIII was at the center of it all.

For one night only, fiction became reality and Jesus was resurrected.

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