Ever since KICKS 3 (summer 2000), each issue of the annual sneaker mag—KICKS 10 not included—has contained two or three new inductions into the KICKS Hall of Fame, where footwear legends past and present are honored. This may not be fresh material for those of you who’ve been copping the mag since before the new millennium hit, but for the younger heads, we’re posting the entire HOF online over the course of the next few weeks. (It’ll be archived under the KICKS tab above.) Enjoy, and don’t forget: KICKS 14 is on sale now! —Ed.
by Michael Bradley
Those were the days. Those were the shoes. Go ahead, just try to explain how cool it was to own a pair of Converse Weapons back before Mike made us all Swoosh-crazy. No one’s gonna believe you. Their eyes will glaze over as soon as they heard the word “Converse,” expecting some kind of Chuck Taylor tribute. But these weren’t some old canvas sleds. No way. They were sharp leather. And everybody wanted them.
The white kids loved the Larry Bird model. It’s strange to put it that way, but it’s the truth. It had long been considered poor form to wear black shoes oncourt, but Bird was keenly aware of Boston pride and tradition. Of course his Converse would be black, because the basic color represented the no-nonsense devotion and work ethic that made his game. It didn’t matter how they looked. Thus, Converse had a perfect way to work the whole market. Don’t like the Lakers or Magic flash? Take a look over here.
But it’s not like people were ignoring the Magic Johnson model. Yeah, you wouldn’t dare wear them outside—any smudge would just kill ‘em. They were slick, just like Buck. Put ‘em on and feel the glide in your step, and that extra flash in you game. Fat guys were running the break, trying to throw no-looks and smiling extra wide. It may seem funny, given today’s more, uh, complicated models, that a fairly simple shoe could cause such a stir, but Converse wasn’t selling its design. It was selling Magic.
Today, it’s amazing to think the two biggest stars in the game would wear the same brand. It was a coup for Converse: The NBA’s two leading men, the players who defined the ‘80’s and lifted their franchises back to the forefront of the league. The players respected each other, even liked each other away from the court. When they played—twice a year in the regular season, and from ’84-87 in the Finals—the League stopped to watch. It was a dream matchup that paid off like a pregnant slot machine in ratings, commercial revenues and drama.
Fact is, Bird and Magic were so compelling, and their roles atop the League’s hierarchy so obvious, their meetings brought the game to a higher plane. It was Russell-Chamberlain all over again, except this time with two very different players who many not have been matched up directly on each other but who nonetheless commanded our attention each time down the court. Each player did it all, and they were among the game’s hardest workers. If you showed up at Boston Garden early enough before a Celtics game, you would have found Bird jogging through the creaking building’s upper bowl, trying to keep loose and build some endurance. Magic may have had more natural spark, but he never took that for granted and was known as a tireless practice player.
By the early ‘90s, it was all over, for Bird, for Magic, for Converse. MJ had taken over the L, and Nike had assumed sole control of the shoe wars. But as remarkable as Jordan’s run was, he lacked a worthy adversary. Maybe its because he was just too good. Or maybe he was born a little too late. Larry and Earvin, Conversely, were born at just the right time.