The Adidas Superstar is really going strong in 2015. Thanks to an impressive advertising campaign and, of course, the collaboration with Pharrell Williams the sneaker is writing one of the biggest comeback stories of the year. Probably not so many people wearing a monochrome pink Superstar designed by Pharrell today know that back in the days it used to be a performance basketball shoe. Yes, this leather low-top with the iconic rubber shell was once worn by the likes of Kareem Adbul-Jabbar on the NBA hardwood.
Today, Nike and Jordan have a market share of over 90% in the US basketball shoe market. Most of you probably don’t remember a time when it was any different. Of course, the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star was the first basketball shoe. But that’s ancient history. However, there came something in-between these two eras. In 1969, Adidas, the company with the three stripes from a small town in Germany, introduced the first full-leather low-top basketball shoe: the Adidas Superstar.
The Adidas Superstar arrived in the late months of 1969 but truly started making an impact in the NBA from 1970. Originally intended as a low-top version of the Adidas Pro, the Superstar turned out to become something very different and independent. Many experts actually consider it to be the defining silhouette among all 3-stripes sneakers. In the first few years of the new decade around 75% of all NBA players were wearing the new shoe. Why did it have such an impact? Even before the Adidas Superstar, many players had turned their backs on canvas shoes like the Chuck Taylor. New leather sneakers like the Adidas Pro Model provided superior protection and support. But it was the Superstar that changed the game. Of course, it doesn’t have any fancy technologies like Flywire, Flightplate or Boost. But at that time, it was a technologically sophisticated performance basketball shoe. For a low-top to provide this amount of support was unprecedented.
Especially the iconic rubber shell on the forefoot, known as “shell toe”, provided better protection and durability. Compared to the clean and simple design of the Adidas Stan Smith tennis shoe, which was released at around the same time, the silhouette really stood out. Adidas also implemented newly developed cushioning technology to give the players better comfort. The Superstars were famously worn by the aforementioned Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the best players of this era, but there were of course many others. Take, for example, Jerry West, Mr. NBA logo, 14-time All-Star, Finals MVP and scoring champion.The leader of the Los Angeles Lakers was one of the first to choose the Superstar as his weapon and wore it in an exciting 7-game finals series against the New York Knicks in 1970.
Adidas Superstar – From the hardwood to the streets
A story that is probably better known to sneakerheads today is the path the Adidas Superstar took during the 1980s. Kids had taken their NBA rolemodels’ styles to the streets and the “shell toe” was one of the favorites among b-boys and b-girls. Run-D.M.C., a rap group from Queens, NYC, was making a strong impact, earning the first gold album and first Grammy award nomination from that genre. As they developed into one the most influential formations in hip hop culture (EVER) they not only paved the way for later generations of rappers, but also spread their style. In breaking with the conventions, they sported their street wear on stage and in their videos: Adidas sneakers and track suits. They were so in love with the three stripes that they even wrote a song about them: “My Adidas” from the 1986 album “Raising Hell.” The Superstar became their unofficial signature sneaker and they famously wore them without laces and with the tongue sticking out. At a concert in Madison Square Garden they asked an audience of 40,000 to hold their Adidas up in the air. A huge number of kids responded and the sight must have been so impressive that one of the guys in the audience – an Adidas employee – actually got Run-D.M.C. a $1 m. endorsement deal. What had already been a connection with a strong impact on urban fashion and sneaker culture now became an official collaboration.
The biggest “What if?” story in the sports shoe industry
So, Adidas had signed Run-D.M.C., which certainly made a huge impact for them. However, they failed to sign Michael Jordan. Jordan wore Adidas and Converse during his time at college, so there was a good chance to score a deal with him. But Adidas simply didn’t want to. They made the strategic decision to go with the big men instead of the shorter Michael Jordan. Subsequently, Adidas almost went bankrupt in the 1990s. We’re happy that they’re back on track and continue to bring back classics like the Adidas Superstar as well as new innovations. Still, this has to be the biggest “what if?” story in the sports industry. What if Jordan had actually signed with Adidas? Would there be a shell toe Jordan signature shoe today? What to you think? Discuss below!