When I was a kid growing up during the 1960’s things were much simpler when it came to shopping for athletic shows. In fact, way back then, shoes worn for sport activities weren’t even referred to as “athletic shoes”.
They were called “sneakers”.
There weren’t even specialized shoes for basketball. Wilt Chamberlain and Bob Cousy wore sneakers just like the rest of us. So a pair of sneakers from one of the “Big Three” sneaker makers – Keds, PF Flyer, or Converse would do us for any sport regardless if it was softball, basketball, touch football, tennis, or swimming in the creak.
Sorry, we didn’t know what soccer was back then in Philadelphia. We thought it was one of those ancient sports played by the Aztecs and the losing team would have their hearts cut out as a sacrifice to the gods.
As I got older and entered junior high school, the sneaker of first choice was the “Chuck Taylor All Stars” by Converse. Everyone just referred to them as “Chucks” for short. To this day I still don’t have a clue who Chuck Taylor was. All I knew was unless you owned a pair of “Chucks” you weren’t officially cool.
Peer pressure and fashion status had just hit me upside the head like a 2×4.
Back in the “good old days”, as I like to refer to them now, sneakers came in only two colors – black or white. Henry Ford would have been pleased except for the one extra unnecessary color option. I seem to recall that red might have been offered, but the last kid brave enough to wear a pair of red sneakers to school suddenly changed schools after being run off campus by a raging mob.
Those sneakers might just as well have been pink.
When I entered college as a freshman in the mid-1970’s, athletic footwear was just becoming more specialized and was then being referred to as athletic footwear or at least as “running shoes”.
The running and jogging craze was in full swing and Adidas led the way with their now legendary blue nylon running shoe with the white stripes down the side. I caught the jogging bug and of course got myself a pair of Adidas blue runners. Frank Shorter was my new hero and I excitedly watched the running competitions in the 1976 Summer Olympic Games.
I actually enjoyed jogging, as it was a sport that didn’t require any particular skill, which was a relief for me. Though I never really did fall in love with those hideous blue nylon Adidas running shoes. They wore out really fast and looked incredibly dorky regardless if worn with running shorts or blue jeans. They also made my feet sweat like nobody’s business.
Fortunately, Adidas quickly gained some competition in the running shoe market and much higher quality as well as nicer looking running shoes were offered. It did seem rather ironic that most owners of these “running shoes” never took them out on a good run.
During the 1980’s I caught the “Basketball Jones”. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had just come into the NBA and things were getting really exciting. Then when Michael Jordan ascended to greatness and the marriage made in Heaven between MJ and Nike was consummated, the industry of athletic shoes simply exploded.
The era of ridiculously high-priced basketball shoes was upon us.
I know my parents are extremely thankful that their boys went through childhood and their teen years well before this era emerged. My father blew his stack when Keds went over $10 a pair. I worry that he might not be with us today if I had asked him to buy me a pair of $250 basketball shoes. Come to think of it, I might not be here today if I had asked him that question.
I could never bring myself to pay the big bucks for a pair of Air Jordan’s. The closest I ever came to owning a pair of designer basketball shoes was a pair of LA Gear shoes that I bought from a clearance table once. The shoes looked pretty cool, but weighed a ton, which didn’t make too much sense for basketball shoes.
Maybe that’s why they were on clearance.
I only wore them once and that was during a pickup basketball game. I wound up stubbing my big toe when I tried to go up for a rebound. The shoes anchored me down like a pair of cement blocks and reduced my vertical leap to zero. That was the last time I ever wore those shoes and to this day they sit in my closet. Except for a thin layer of dust, they look as new as the day I spied them sitting on that clearance table.
These days, I’ve resigned myself to a versatile yet cheap athletic shoe. It’s the kind you can get for $29.95 at most discount places like Wal-Mart and Target. The brand doesn’t matter since there’s a wide selection of these kinds of shoes out there.
They are nice looking shoes and usually have all-leather uppers and look pretty nice with a pair of jeans. I can wear them to the gym or play tennis and basketball in them and are definitely a great value for what I pay for them and how long they last.
But there just seems to be something missing and I’m not sure exactly what that is. Perhaps it has something to do with those endless summers so long ago when sneakers were made of canvas and we didn’t have a care in the world.