August 8, 2016

PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK (self-reference alert):

How Chuck Taylor Taught America How to Play Basketball : A shoe-in for the first ever basketball game in the Olympics, Converse All Stars have a long history both in and out of sport (Maya Wei-Haas, 8/08/16, SMITHSONIAN.COM)

It was 1936, and the United States men's basketball team stepped onto the rain-soaked outdoor courts sporting bright white Converse shoes--patriotic blue and red pinstripes wrapping around each sole. The Americans were taking on the Canadians in the Olympic finals, and the conditions were miserable. As it poured, water inundated the courts, turning them into a "sea of mud," according to the New York Times. But, in a painfully low-scoring game, the U.S. ultimately won 19-8.

This was basketball's inaugural year in the games and the first of seven consecutive Olympic gold medals for the U.S. men's team. But it also marked the first appearance of the iconic "Olympic white" Chuck Taylor shoes--a design still around to this day.

The history of the shoe is nearly as old as the game of basketball itself, and in a way both matured together. In 1891, YMCA physical educator James Naismith invented the indoor game, played with a soccer ball and two peach baskets, to keep his students fit during the frigid Massachusetts winters. Seventeen years later, Marquis Converse founded his Converse Rubber Shoe Company, also in Massachusetts, to produce rubber galoshes, a far cry from the canvas kicks the company is known for today.

The company churned out these protective boots for the wet spring, winter and fall, but sales inevitably dropped during the dry summer months. After two years of Converse firing his employees at the beginning of the slump and rehiring when the rains returned in autumn, the entrepreneur made a bid to keep his most skilled workers year-round. He started making a non-skid, canvas-topped shoe.

The first version was a low-top oxford kind of shoe, says Sam Smallidge, the head archivist at Converse. But these dressy sneaks quickly became associated with sports, specifically the rapidly spreading basketball craze. In 1922, the Converse Rubber Company hired a charismatic athlete named Charles "Chuck" Taylor as part salesman, part player-coach for the shoe's club team, the Converse All Stars.

So, mid-70s, the cool thing in the 'hood was to wear your high white Chucks with colored laces.  The Mother Judd gave me the $12 to get new ones and some sweet red laces.  Rode to Bloomfield--wear there were businesses on the main drag--on on our bikes, bought the kicks and went back through Bloomfield Park.  It had rained so we were splashing through the puddles.  By the time we got home the brand new sneakers were more or less pink.  The Mother tried washing them in bleach which just made them a more delicate shade of pink.  Broke down crying and told her I couldn't wear them to school or kids would beat me up and call me a (insert effeminate pejorative here).  She ponied up for new ones. God bless her.

Posted by at August 8, 2016 5:04 PM