Tag Archives: chuck taylor

Before LeBron there was Chuck

7 Jun

It’s hard to know exactly when Converse’s star lit up.

In the eighties, when everything that matters in basketball’s evolution coalesced, Converse was already on the map, etched into sneakers and balls as if it always had been. If you fell in love with hoops culture back then, as most of today’s NBA fans did, then you could be forgiven for believing that Converse All Stars were as fundamental to the modern game as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Because they were.

It took decades of favourable endorsement to reach such lofty heights though, because let’s face it, it’s rare for any brand to transcend its industry in rapid time. Not Apple, nor even Facebook conquered the world overnight. Sure, a few people liking you is one thing, but cultural impact truly needs time to, well, click.

Marquis M. Converse confidently opened the doors to his “rubber shoe company” in small town Massachusetts in 1908, but even he had little indication an American and eventually global icon was on his hands. He started with basic rubber-soled footwear and soon followed up with a rudimentary tennis sneaker. But destiny, spurred by Dr. James Naismith’s new basket and ball game, certainly had grander visions for Converse.

Basketballers needed better tread and support. So Converse combined his rubber sole with an ankle-high canvas upper. Known as the All Star, the shoe was soon adopted by an All-American high school phenomenon, Chuck Taylor, who would later suit up with the original Celtics, Buffalo Germans and Akron Firestones. Taylor was essentially America’s first sneaker endorser, and his belief in the shoe made him even more than that: by 1923, Chuck literally signed-off on the footwear, and an icon was born.

Taylor’s signature was the start of something big. The famous New York Renaissance, the country’s first all African American team, took to the All Star shortly after. It was a partnership that further boosted Converse as product for genuine hoopsters, as the Rens’ innovative and quick passing style wowed fans and propelled the sport forward. But perhaps more importantly for Converse, the team justified their flair with success, compiling 2,588 wins and 539 losses in their short history.

The look now had credibility.

On the back of these early milestones, basketball began its ascent in popular culture in the 1930s. Converse penetrated the US pros, then the Olympics and college ranks, and of course, New York City’s most famous outdoor court, Rucker Park. But ultimately it was Hollywood and celebrity culture that catapulted “the star” into the commercial stratosphere and embedded its image into the social consciousness. From James Dean to John Travolta’s Danny Zuko, from almost every kid in John Hughes’ movies to Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, and later Kurt Cobain, U2’s The Edge, Jack Black and Katy Perry – the All Stars became all purpose for the hot and the hip.

But in truth, Chucks, as they are affectionately known, are not for everyone. They fit a type. They’re the shoe of choice for the free of spirit, innovative, independent minded, and perhaps rebellious. And because basketball sneakers have morphed into something far more sophisticated, multi-coloured and multi-tiered, the All Star remains understated and undeniably cool.

There aren’t too many shoes that have performed such a feat.