Thursday, November 02, 2006


Erik Cassano has a post on his blog about Stephon Marbury's new line of $15.00 basketball shoes. For some reason, reading that reminded me of one of the great frustrations of my own brief basketball career -- my repeated failure to convince my parents to spring for a pair of hi-top Chuck Taylors.

My first attempt at Chucks came in sixth grade, when I was selected to a basketball all-star team. This had nothing to do with my ability, and everything to do with the fact that I was an extra-wide body and one of the tallest kids in my grade. Nevertheless, I thought this great honor merited a new pair of sneakers, and since my toes were curling up in the pair I'd started the school year with, my parents reluctantly agreed.

I actually thought that I had sold my mom on the many, many merits of Chucks. Unfortunately, however, she always went to Sears first whenever it was time to buy us clothes (yup, my brothers and I wore the dreaded Toughskins), and I guess she viewed sneakers as falling into the clothes category, not the sporting goods category. That proved to be my downfall, because the guy in the Sears shoe department immediately pointed my mom to the Sears-brand sneakers. He showed my mom an ad for the shoes that said that they were "Made by Converse Expressly for Sears," and they were $2.00 cheaper than the Chucks I wanted at the sporting goods store. Needless to say, 15 minutes later, I walked out of the store with a perfectly serviceable pair of shoes, but ones that said "Sears" instead of "Converse" in the little white ball on the side of the ankle.

That would've been bad enough, but Sears was never content until they'd sufficiently ugly-fied their store brand products to make them a source of everlasting humiliation to the kids who got stuck wearing them. This corporate sadism had to be the reason for that gigantic hard plastic belt tag they stuck on Toughskins jeans, which couldn't be removed with a blowtorch and served no purpose other than to alert everyone within 50 feet that you weren't wearing Levi's. In the sneaker category, this sadism manifested itself in an obnoxious and useless ankle pad that they added at the back of their ersatz-Chucks. The thing looked like a giant plastic blister, and was a dead giveaway that what I had on my feet wasn't a Converse basketball shoe.

The next season, I took another crack at a pair of Chucks, and I was well on my way to them, until my mom happened upon a sale on Pro-Keds-- blue Pro-Keds. My basketball uniform was white with black and gold numbers, so it's fair to say that the Pro-Keds were a fashion don't. Still, they weren't from Sears, and I consoled myself with the fact that I was at least decked out in a semi-respectable brand of canvas.

I made one final try during my 8th grade basketball season. This one was the most tantalizing near miss of them all. I sold my mom on my need for Converse, but when we got to the sporting goods store, I discovered that right next to my beloved yet elusive Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars were a pair of Converse "Coach" sneakers, the All-Star's cheaper and infinitely less cool cousin. Guess which pair I walked out of the store with?

My basketball career ended following my 8th grade season, which I mostly spent being dispatched to commit hard fouls on guys who were outmuscling our twig of a center. (My 8th grade coach seemed to have learned all he knew about basketball from watching the 1974 Philadelphia Flyers play hockey). So, that was it as far as my dream sneakers were concerned.

Well, not quite. I did buy a pair with my own money (now there's a novel concept) shortly after I got my first job, and I've had a pair in my closet ever since. I don't wear them much anymore, but it's nice to know they're there.

1 comment:

Erik said...

I could never get into Chuck Taylors. The idea of playing basketball (or even walking)
with a layer of canvas as the only thing between you and a dislocated ankle always made me leery. I always thought of them as foot corsets more than shoes.

But, then again, 45 years ago, basketball players would probably have looked at a pair of Nike Zoom LeBrons and say "What the bleep are these? Boxing gloves for your feet?"