Bill Rubin column: Time out: Chuck Taylor All Star shoes
Before there was a Jordan, Kobe, Curry, or LeBron basketball shoe, there was the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star model. Make that the iconic Converse Chuck Taylor All Star shoe. Make that the nearly 100-year old All Star shoe. Yes, the same shoes worn by the mythical 1951-52 Hickory Huskers in the movie, Hoosiers. And Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. And the cast of Happy Days. And now, worn by hipsters and fashion wannabes, young and old, who seek a retro-style.
Today, there are many, many options with basketball shoes. As for the Chuck Taylor All Star, the options may have been white or black, and ankle cut or hightop. A company called Converse starting making basketball shoes in 1917, and in 1921, a semi-pro basketball player named Charles "Chuck" Taylor joined the company in sales. Converse relied on Taylor's suggestions for a better design. The circular "All Star" logo was added to protect the ankle, followed by Taylor's signature, giving the shoes an endorsement of sorts, likely among the first of its kind in athletics. Taylor was soon conducting basketball clinics at YMCAs across the country and promoting the Converse All Stars. Sales soared.
In reality, there was nothing particularly special about the All Star shoe. They were made of cotton canvas, with a distinctive toe cap and brown, non-skid rubber sole. The shoe's so-called "loose lining" of softer canvas was said to offer greater flexibility and prevent dreaded blisters. City players, country bumpkins, professionals, U.S. military, and Olympic athletes all wore the All Stars.
Several hundred million pairs have been worn since the 1920s. But by the 70s, the shoe lost its popularity. Canvas was passed by with leather and along came an upstart company known by its swoosh. Converse filed for bankruptcy and was acquired by that swoosh company in 2003. The All Star brand got new life. Various models like the Chuck II have been introduced and marketed. Some were commercial failures, but others offer the causal look in numerous colors and prints.
The semi-pro player turned salesman is long gone but his name on a pair of shoes lives on. Spectators would be hard-pressed to see basketball players wearing the All Star model on the court. However, their popularity can be found on patrons in coffee shops, bass guitarists in grunge bands, and artists.
Long live the Chuck Taylor All Star shoe, whether it's a hightop or ankle cut, or in bright pink or silver.