Hoosier Chuck Taylor & His Functional, Fashionable Footwear
There is no question that basketball is part of the Hoosier DNA, and our state has produced more than its fair share of icons and innovators. From homegrown legends like Larry Bird and Shawn Kemp to adopted sons like Victor Oladipo and Reggie Miller, the list of Hoosier basketball icons is impressive. The legacy is not limited to on-court exploits, either.
Bobby Knight and Gregg Popovich might be polar opposites in terms of personality, but both have strong ties to Indiana. The most famous basketball movie of all time was called ‘Hoosiers’ and even the game’s Canadian-born inventor. James Naismith, sent compliments our way, saying “Basketball really had its origins in Indiana, which remains the center of the sport.”
And yet, for all of Larry Bird’s exploits, Bobby Knight’s tirades and Reggie Miller’s buzzer-beating three-pointers, our most iconic contribution to basketball is arguably a shoe that hasn’t been used on the hard court for decades. We are talking, of course, of the famous Chuck Taylor All-Stars, marked by Indiana’s own Chuck Hollis Taylor.
These classic Converse sneakers started out as the premier basketball shoe in America, but have grown to become a fashion staple across the world.
Fashion-conscious teenage boys and girls that couldn’t pick Larry Bird out of a lineup regularly pick up Chuck Taylors at the mall. So too do punk rockers, college students and just about anybody else.
Chuck Taylors might have been replaced on the court by $300 signature shoes from Nike and Adidas but they’ve since found a second life as a fashion brand. From Tokyo to Berlin to Sao Paolo, the shoes have gone global.
Chuck Taylor, the man not the shoe, was an Indiana-born semi-pro basketball player who bounced around a number of teams in the Midwest in the early 20th century. He was a good player, being selected twice to all-state teams in high school, but proved to be a much better marketer and showman.
In the early 1920’s, after a relatively uneventful pro-career, Taylor joined the Converse Rubber Shoe Company in Chicago, working as a promoter and traveling salesman. Converse had been making the Converse Non-Skids basketball shoe since 1917 and was already planning on releasing a new shoe when they hired Taylor in 1921.
Taylor’s input convinced them to alter their plans. Instead of releasing the Converse All-Star shoe as planned, the company implemented a number of Taylor’s design suggestions and created the Chuck Taylor All-Stars, complete with Taylor’s now-iconic signature.
Far from a snake oil salesman, Chuck Taylor was highly respected in the basketball community and the shoes were widely used on the court for decades. Upon his 1968 retirement from Converse, Taylor was voted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Perhaps fittingly, around the time that All-Stars lost their Hoosier namesake, they became less prominent on the court and more prominent in fashion.