Few fashion trends stand the test of time (the pegged pants fad of 1989 was mercifully brief). However, Chuck Taylor Converse basketball shoes are just as popular now, if not more so, as they were in the 1930s. I see them on everybody from young hipsters to older folks, who couldn’t care less about style. But as beloved as the shoes are, I bet that if you asked any of these people who Chuck Taylor was, they’d likely draw a blank.
Normally, when an athlete has his name emblazoned on a basketball shoe, it’s because they’re one of the great hoops players of all time. Chuck Taylor, while a talented player, wasn’t considered to be one of the greatest ever. But he was one of the first good ones and a dedicated salesperson. And, more importantly, he loved the sport.
Taylor was a star basketball player in high school and played professionally as a young man in the 1920s (this was well before the NBA was established, which started in 1946). According to the Basketball Hall of Fame, a young Taylor “hobbled into a Converse Chicago sales office complaining of sore feet” in 1921 and convinced the shoe company to create a sneaker especially for the sport of basketball. The rest is history.
Well, sort of. A site dedicated to Chuck’s contributions to basketball (and footwear) explain that Chuck was also instrumental in promoting the shoe. He traveled the country, working for Converse, and was even a player/coach for the Converse All-Stars, “the company’s industrial league basketball team.” Several years later, Converse added the name “Chuck Taylor” to the shoe’s ankle patch.
And how did Chuck sell so many shoes? A blog from a classic sneakers site explains, Chuck would make friends with the small town coaches. A former president of Converse recalled, “He would teach basketball and work with the local sporting goods retail, but without encroaching on the coach’s own system. He drove a big car, a Cadillac. And his home was the back of the car.”
It could be argued that nobody did more for the sport, especially when it was first starting, than Chuck Taylor. He may not have had a shot like Bird or hops like Jordan, but nobody worked harder, and nobody loved basketball more. Taylor passed away of a heart attack in 1969. And for the record, he didn’t get a commission on his sales from Converse. I guess he just did it because he believed in the shoes.
The shoe, which has changed surprisingly little since its inception, has sold hundreds of millions of pairs. I think I’m one of the four people in the world who have never owned ‘em. Do you think high-tech athletic shoes actually “do” anything, or would basketball players be just as good in the old fashioned Chucks? They were good enough for NBA great Bill Russell, right?
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