Chucks in Sports

by Jack Hunter

1960s basketball game
Chuck Taylor All Stars were the preferred choice of basketball players for decades.

Fashion and sports are as tightly intertwined as they have ever been. While both industries seem to be near polar opposites, the sports world has become more style conscience than ever before. In college football, for example, most teams wear a different uniform every week and sport color schemes that differ far from tradition. Basketball is an extremely fashion oriented sport, with everything from the shoes to what players wear off the court being talked about daily. But what started this trend? Believe it or not, the Chuck Taylor All-Star was the first real athletic shoe. Before Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour, there was Converse.

It all began in 1921, sort of. Before chucks got their name, they were simply a pair of shoes. In 1917, the Converse Rubber Shoe Company designed a rubber-soled shoe with a canvas upper. The design was meant to cater to the needs of the elite basketball player. With a sole designed to provide superb grip on the court and a high top, canvas upper for ankle support, the Chuck Taylor All Star was the first shoe designed with an athletic purpose in mind. However, shoes don’t sell themselves and Converse needed a face for its signature product.

Enter Chuck Taylor, a basketball player from small Brown County, Indiana. Looking for a job, Taylor arrived at the Converse office in Chicago. After being hired, Taylor worked as a salesman for the company and traveled the country selling chucks. Taking a few of Taylor’s suggestions to heart, Converse redesigned their signature shoe and added the iconic ankle patch. In 1932, Taylor’s name was added to the patch and the Chuck Taylor All-Star was born.

Chucks shortly became the predominant athletic shoe in the United States. Taylor toured the country promoting the shoe and sport of basketball, which began to slowly gain a foothold in American sports. Chucks were the shoes worn by all of the pioneering teams in American basketball, from the first US Olympic team in 1936 and by Oregon and Ohio State, who played in the first NCAA Basketball National Championship. But it wasn’t until 1949 that chucks truly found their home, in the NBA.

Following their introduction as the first true athletic shoes, Converse Chuck Taylors became THE shoe of America’s athletes. In 1949, a merger between to professional basketball leagues would send the popularity of chucks into the stratosphere. That year, the Basketball Association of America and the National League merged to form the National Basketball Association. The NBA became the league for pro basketball players in the United States, and would grow to rival the NFL and MLB. By this time in basketball history, nearly every single pro player was wearing chucks and would continue to do so for years. All time greats from Jerry West and Bill Russell, to Pete “The Pistol” Maravich and Julius “Dr. J” Irving.

Some of the greatest moments in early basketball history were made in a pair of Chucks. Wilt Chamberlain scored an NBA record 100 points in a game in 1962. During that year, Converse introduced its first low top chucks, which were universally adopted by players. In 1966, seven additional colors were introduced in the aim of aligning with NBA uniforms. Chucks made history in 1968, as their namesake Chuck Taylor was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. For rest of the decade and into the 70’s, chucks were the shoe of not only the NBA but the NCAA as well.

Heading into the 80’s, Converse enjoyed unprecedented success in not only basketball, but other sports as well. A few years before, the Converse one star became not only a staple of the NBA, but for surfers and skaters a like. Some of the most pioneering athletes in skateboarding, including the Dogtown Boys, shredded in a pair of Converse. In 1984, Converse was the official sponsor of the Olympic Games and the US won the basketball gold medal in converse shoes. In 1986, the legendary “Choose Your Weapons” ad campaign debuted. The spot featured Magic Johnson and Larry Bird squaring off in the latest Converse shoes.

By the 2000’s though, Converse’s popularity began to decline in the NBA. Chucks had not been worn in the NBA since 1979, and brands like Nike, Adidas, and Reebok were enjoying a larger portion of the basketball shoe market. However, Converse still sponsored a good number of popular players including Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Andre Miller. While chucks may not enjoy the athletic prowess of their early years, the shoes remain an essential part of basketball history.

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