The company founded in 1908 by Marquis Mills Converse in Malden, Mass., has a grand history that has not been duplicated. In 1917 The Converse Rubber Shoe Co. made a rubber-soled shoe with a canvas upper called “Non-Skids.” It was high-performance footwear specifically designed for basketball players.
In 1921, a guy named Charles “Chuck” Taylor joined a Converse-sponsored basketball team called The Converse All Stars. A salesman, Taylor, who claimed to have played for the Original Celtics, conducted clinics across the country and sold sneakers from the trunk of his car.
The Converse Chuck Taylor All Star sneaker quickly became a hit.
Thanks to Taylor’s tireless promotion, basketball became an Olympic sport in 1936. He was a fitness consultant for the U.S. military, and it wasn’t long before The Converse Chuck Taylor All Star became the official sneaker of the armed forces.
The popularity of the Chuck Taylor All Star sneaker really took off when professional and elite athletes began wearing the footwear with success. And when players did extraordinary things in them, such as the late Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 points or Oscar Robinson averaging a triple double for a season or Bill Russell winning 11 NBA championships, the shoe reached its zenith.
Growing up in Philadelphia, the perfect wardrobe ensemble for many youngsters was a pair of silk and wool pants, a kool kap and a pair of Chuck Taylor All Stars. On the basketball court, the motto was “Don’t get the kind that slip and slide. Get the kind with the star on the side.”
Ricky Tucker, a 1979 Overbrook High School grad who became the first Philadelphia-born and bred basketball player recruited to a Big East school when he went to Providence College, remembers the feeling he had putting on his first pair.
“I was invincible,” said Tucker. “Somebody was going to get into trouble. When I put those on, it gave me such a lift. I felt that I couldn’t be beaten.”
Legendary Gene Banks, the pride and joy of West Philadelphia High School Class of 1977 and Duke University, remembers his first pair of Chucks.
“My first pair of Chuck’s were when I was in junior high school,” said Banks, who went on to play several years in the National Basketball Association. “My dad brought my first pair and I was like a kid at Christmas. It did something to my spirit, as if I was a pro player wearing them.
“[There was] not really much support, but who understood that back then, as the shoes of today have much better support. But it was the fact that I had a pair of Chucks. I felt like a player wearing them,” he recalled.
Personally speaking, I never got the chance to enjoy The Converse Chuck Taylor All Star experience that Tucker and Banks did. I’ve had many pairs of Dr. J’s, Nike, Puma, adidas and Pony sneakers over the years. Too many to count. I have never owned a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor All Star sneakers.
My parents, who never left me wanting for many things, would not buy me a pair of Chucks. It was price prohibitive for them and that made me the butt of many jokes. I can still remember my peers chanting “Bo-Bos they make your feet feel fine. Bo-Bos they cost a a dollar ninety-nine!”
The popularity of Chucks has changed drastically since then. Nike bought Converse in 2003. Once bragged about being made in the U.S.A, Chucks and other Converse brand footwear are now manufactured in places such as Vietnam, China, Indonesia and India.
The last NBA player to wear a pair of canvas Chuck Taylor All Star sneakers was Wayne “Tree” Rollins back in the 1979-80 season. Rollins wore a pair of modified Chuck Taylors, which had the Circle Star patch removed from the inside ankle. In its place were star chevrons glued to the sides of the canvas.
Michael Ray Richardson has been credited with being the last player to wear leather Converse All Star sneakers in 1982.
Sometimes, I still wonder what it would’ve felt like to play in a pair of Chucks. Could they have made me run my fastest and jump my highest the way I thought my P.F. Flyers did? Could they have pumped me up the way I felt my Reebok pumps did? Perhaps they could have made me feel confident and cool the way my Walt “Clyde” Frazier Puma sneakers did?
I’ll never know. My glory years of being an athlete are gone. But there’s something about that patch with a blue star and the name Chuck Taylor that makes me think of a simpler time.