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
He asked. That was it. Chuck Taylor’s feet hurt when he played basketball, so in 1921, he walked into Converse’s Chicago sales office and asked for a special hoops shoe. And he got it. Eleven years later, they put his name on it, and the legend began. If it were that easy today, maybe Bryant Reeves would have his own signature sled. Call it “Air Overpaid.” That would be a big seller.
The Chuck Taylor model, on the other hand, has been the bomb. Converse has moved more than 500 million of the things, making it the world’s all-time sneaker champ. For almost four decades, it was the only thing found on players’ feet. Everybody wore Chucks. High or low. Black or white. Those plain, canvas sneakers with the rubber soles were everywhere. What was the point? Nobody could slay a giant.
As a result, Taylor’s name was synonymous with basketball, even though he was a journeyman who played for barnstorming clubs when pro ball was a loosely organized confederation of teams that competed whenever they could, against whatever opposition was available. And we think players don’t deserve shoe contracts now. Taylor didn’t even play in the ABL, a short-lived, six-year attempt to start a real professional basketball league. Though he had an 11-year pro career and was known as an accurate shooter, he drifted from team-to-team, spending time with the likes of the Buffalo Germans and the New York Celtics. He had been a two-time all-state performer at Columbus (IN) HS and was part of teams in the U.S. Navy and Air Force, but his résumé isn’t exactly endorsement material., even in today’s instant-stardom climate.
Taylor’s playing career may have been nondescript, but he was a giant off the court, particularly in the game’s formative years. In 1922, he helped organize and run the first-ever basketball clinic, at North Carolina State. He later toured Europe and South America for the U.S. State Department, giving clinics and no doubt espousing the myriad benefits of democracy and capitalism through the game of basketball. As his participation in these endeavors grew, Taylor became known as an “ambassador” for the sport, a distinction that contributed mightily to his election to the Hall of Fame in ’69, the year he died.
Taylor also played a role in the college game, even though his education ended at Columbus High. In 1922, he developed the Converse Basketball Yearbook; 10 years later, he was picking all-America teams himself. When it came time to consider his credentials for the Hall, it was hard to ignore his contributions to the game.
While his career and impact on basketball are interesting and profound, Chuck Taylor will be forever known for his name on a shoe, even if most people who have donned them in past decades have no idea whether their sneakers’ namesake was a player, coach, inventor, businessman or fictitious character. Of course, the brand has lost considerable influence since its heyday, when it was worn by virtually all professional players (Tree Rollins was the last NBA player to sport ‘em on the court, in ’80) and was the official shoe of the Olympic competition from 1936-68. Chucks are now worn more for fashion than athletic purposes, their rainbow colors making them whimsical accessories, rather than sporting tools. For those people who laced up a pair of high whites in earnest, however, the Chuck Taylor legend lives on. The man may not be able to match the shoe’s myth, but there is no denying his major feat—he asked.