Quickly, name all signature basketball shoes you can think of! Air Jordan, check. Kobe X, check. KD, CP3, D-Rose, check check check.
Even if you named a dozen shoes, wanna bet that you didn’t name the Converse All-Star aka Chuck Taylor aka the one and only ‘Chuck’?
Well, you are excused. After all it is only the oldest, most popular and best selling basketball shoe of all time. That’s right, the ‘Chuck’ you’ve been wearing since 7th grade, the shoe that looks like it’s been through hell and back, the only pair of sneakers your parents have ever owned, is – at heart – a basketball shoe. At least it used to be.
Converse Rubber Corporation or as it is known nowadays Converse first started producing the All Star basketball shoe in 1917. (For people who like to impress their friends with useless trivia, that’s just five years after the Titanic kissed an iceberg)
The original Converse All Star basketball shoe came in natural brown colors with black trim and featured a thick rubber sole. Just a couple of years later black canvas and leather versions came to existence. Sales were slow at first, which is understandable. Making a basketball shoe in 1921 is like making a shoe for curling today. Not many people will buy it when not many people play the sport. But that all changed in 1921, thanks to a man named Charles H. Taylor.
Even though Charles or ‘Chuck’ Taylor as his friends called him was a basketball player – he played for the team that would later become the Boston Celtics – there was no way he could survive with just a basketball player’s salary. After all basketball was still seen more as a hobby than a real sport. (Baseball ruled everything in the 1920s. You might have heard of the New York Yankees and a guy named Babe Ruth) To make a living and stay connected to basketball at the same time Charles Taylor joined Converse as a salesman. Just two years later Converse made him the face of the company and added the now famous patch on the shoes’ ankle which is there to this day.
But Taylor’s involvement went further than that. He became involved in the design of the sneaker, too, helping develop it beyond the initial creation of 1917 to increase the amount of support in the ankle and help reconfigure the rubber outsole formula for increased traction. Taylor traveled all across the United States hosting basketball clinics, promoting his shoe. He did it with so much success that Converse eventually slapped his name high on the ankle. The Chuck Taylor was born!
In 1936 the Chuck Taylor shoe made its mark in sports history. It was on the feet of the first U.S. Olympic basketball team. Both Oregon and Ohio State wore it in the first ever NCAA Championship game in 1939. And in 1949 when the National Basketball Association (NBA) formed its professional league, nearly every player stepped onto the court in a pair of ‘Chucks’. Back then it came exclusively in white and black canvas, which only changed in the late 1960s when Converse started offering multiple colors.
When more technologically advanced shoes started to hit the basketball floor in the early 1980s and ‘air in the sole’ became a must-have for players, the Chuck revolution began to fade. Tree Rollins, a mountain of a man playing for the Atlanta Hawks was the last player to ever wear the Chuck Taylor in an NBA Game (1979). The shoe that had helped bring basketball from a side show into a global phenomena became a lifestyle choice.
The combination of the Chuck Taylor being synonymous with basketball tradition and the addition of multiple colors started to give an athletic shoe a cultural crossover appeal that companies dream about. Therefore it is no surprise that when skateboarding emerged in the late 70s, the urban and rugged Chuck Taylor was one of first choices for many skaters. That makes it TWO sports that basically owe their popularity if not existence to the Chuck. No other sports shoe comes even close to that.
It has been estimated that over 800.000.000 pairs of Chucks have been sold as of today. As the decades pass, these simple but timeless sneakers are rediscovered and adapted by millions of people in each new generation who like their look and feel on their feet.
Now almost 100 years after its original conception we should all take a step back and remember where this absolute legend of a shoe came from.
And keep in mind that even though the Chuck Taylor is no longer a basketball shoe … it will always be a basketball shoe.