Chuck Taylor became one of the most famous names in the history of basketball, not through his play, but through his contributions to the development of the Converse All Star basketball shoes for over 40 years.
Chuck Taylor achieved fame as the name associated with Converse basketball shoes without ever playing college basketball. Taylor had been a capable high school player in Indiana, and foregoing university, Taylor embarked upon an undistinguished professional playing career with a succession of teams in the Midwestern United States in 1919 that ended in 1930.
In 1917, Marquis Converse, a shoe manufacturer located in Chicago, Illinois, developed the first in a line of rubber-soled basketball shoes. Prior to the entry of Converse into this market, there were few shoes specifically available for any particular sport. The shoes worn for indoor or gymnasium pursuits tended to be constructed from lightweight products that did not stand up to excessive strain, such as thin leather. The Converse shoes were unusual for the time in that they had a relatively thick sole. In 1921, Taylor attended at the Converse offices to discuss their basketball shoe; Taylor had worn the shoes in his games and he had suggestions as to how the product might be improved.
As a result of this meeting, Converse hired Taylor to run a series of basketball clinics to promote the shoe; ironically, Taylor playing for a team called the Akron Firestone Non-Skids at the time he was hired by Converse. The first of the Taylor clinics on behalf of Converse was held at North Carolina State University in 1922; Taylor would subsequently organize Converse clinics for over 30 years. Unlike notable sports products spokesmen of the modern age, such as basketball legend Michael Jordan, Taylor was at best a journeyman-level player in his time.
Basketball grew significantly in popularity throughout the United States into the 1930s. The demand for basketball shoes increased dramatically during this period. In 1932, Converse added the signature of Chuck Taylor to its existing Converse All Star five-star logo. The precise reason for adding the name of Chuck Taylor to the Converse label is now unclear, given his lack of acclaim as a player. For the next 40 years, 'Chucks.' as the shoes were known, were the best selling basketball shoe in the world. In 1936, Converse All Stars became the official basketball shoes for the Olympic Games, a distinction Converse would hold until 1968.
Taylor became involved in all promotional aspects of the Converse operation. He spearheaded the Converse All Star yearbook, an annual publication highlighting the year in basketball in the United States. Taylor edited the Converse yearbook from 1932 until 1968. Beginning in 1932, Taylor was a selector of the annual collegiate All-American teams. On the first team that he selected, Taylor chose John Wooden, the UCLA coaching legend and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Taylor was himself enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a contributor to the development of basketball in 1969.
The style and the construction of Converse All Stars were not significantly varied until after 1970. By modern standards, the shoe is a decidedly low technology product; during the time of its greatest popularity, Converse All Stars were considered well suited to the game of basketball. The original versions were available in one of two styles, high top or low top, and in one of two colours, black or white. Players would note the distinctive rubber smell that attached to the Converse All Stars long after they had been purchased and significantly used.
The most significant feature of the shoe was its double reinforced rubber sole that was designed to provide traction in the various kinds of quick multidirectional movement required in basketball. Converse All Stars were shoes with a deserved reputation for having the uppers wearing out before the soles. The high top models were especially valued for providing ankle support without restricting the movement of the joint. The canvas uppers were relatively light weight.
Taylor was the face of all Converse basketball shoe marketing until the time of his death in 1969. Converse built upon the success fostered by Taylor's clinics and promotional work to introduce other sport specific shoes, in the sports of football, track, and wrestling.
Converse All Stars were supplanted as the best selling basketball shoe by the combined effects of improved basketball shoe technology and the growth of Nike, and the influence of its advertising campaign built around Michael Jordan. Today marketed as a retro-styled shoe, the Chuck Taylor Converse All Stars are sold worldwide, bearing the signature of Chuck Taylor.