The pendulum of PUMA’s legacy oscillates mainly between soccer and track and field, where big name heroes, past and present, strode into the record books when it mattered most. The outcomes turned them into stars and eventually into some of the best ever, thus cementing their legacies and PUMA sneakers on the world stage.
Fall is here, but even in 2015, PUMA is still ahead of the game. The brand that’s forever faster has bushels of talent in both football, soccer, and track, including some of the biggest names in the world. And while it’s easy to point to the end result as evidence that the brand knows what it’s doing, in order to get the whole picture you have to start in the past. These are the Moments Where PUMA Changed the Game.
illustrations via Henry Kaye
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World Cup, 1960s — PUMA World Cup Moments, Led By Pelé and Eusébio
An “official national treasure” of Brazil, legendary striker Pelé was voted FIFA Player of the Century, a prize he shared with Diego Maradona of Argentina. On the field, he made defenders look silly with his electrifying play and spectacular goals. Just as the ring of his name suggests, he breezily jolted any defender that confronted him and delighted football fans everywhere with joy and entertainment. The legend wasn’t just “The King” of football but one of the original kings of self-promotion in sports.
In the 1962 World Cup in Chile, Brazil’s national team wore PUMA boots en route to their second consecutive World Cup victory. While Pelé was staking his claim as the most exciting player in soccer, injury knocked him out of the tournament in the second group match against Czechoslovakia. Instead of derailing their World Cup title hopes, however, it gave young Brazilians players Amarildo and Garrincha a chance to fill in and rise to the occasion. Brazil went on to beat Czechoslovakia in the final with Garrincha, the best player of the tournament, winning the Golden Ball Award.
Four years later in England, another footballer named Eusébio, sporting PUMA’s legendary KING football boots, was named “Player of the Tournament” in the 1966 World Cup. His mind-bending speed and deception with the ball made him the star of the tournament. Leading up to Portugal’s match against Brazil, the contest was billed as a matchup between Pelé and Eusébio before a knee injury once again sidelined Pelé, giving Portugal an easy 3-1 win. After a great run, England subdued Portugal’s own legend through a man-marking technique.
PUMA King – Soccer Boot
Eusebio was one of the first players to sport PUMA’s King boots during his amazing run with Portugal in the 1966 World Cup but it wasn’t until Pelé donned his own special pair in 1970 that the King boot became the icon it is today. The 1970 version revamped the original version with a revolutionary flat structure and kangaroo leather to make the boot lighter and to further improve its softness and comfort. Never looking back, PUMA King boots are some of the most beloved and trusted soccer boots around even today.
1968 Olympics — Black Power Salute
PUMA enjoyed great success in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City with Lee Evans (400m, 5x400m), Willie Davenport (110m high hurdles), and Bob Seagren (pole vault) winning gold while wearing PUMA shoes. However, there was one moment that transcended all the rest. In a time of racial hostility in the States for African-Americans and other minorities, and apartheid undermining impartiality in Africa, PUMA’s courageous athlete Tommie Smith, along with his teammate John Carlos (bronze), raised their fists in silent protest in what came to be known as the Black Power Salute–but better called the Human Rights Salute–that made a statement more powerful and valuable than any gold medal. Even to this day, it stands as one of the most “overt” political statements ever made in sports.
The gesture led to Tommie Smith and John Carlos being expelled from the games given the times of racial unrest and the political stir-up the act entailed; it wasn’t until 2013 that the IOC corrected their stance on the matter with their website, stating, “Over and above winning medals, the black American athletes made names for themselves by an act of racial protest.”
“Sacramento” Brush Spike – Track Boot
Prior to the 1968 Summer Olympics, track athletes who wore the “Sacramento” brush spikes, with its innovative brush soles, broke several world records that were later nullified by the association because the boot was deemed “too dangerous” before it was banned from competition entirely. Tommie Smith took to the finish line in the 200m for Gold in similar PUMA spikes.
Walter “Clyde” Frazier was an icon on the court with his unguardable play as the floor general for the New York Knicks. While leading the franchise to their only two NBA titles as one of the league’s best guards, ironically, he was known better for his embodiment of “funk” in both manner and dress off the floor. He asked PUMA for a custom pair of Suedes, which led to a bit of reconfiguring of the original silhouette. They stamped his moniker on the side and made it then wider and even lighter.
Frazier’s unrelenting style consisted of choppy sideburns and fedoras, and when paired with PUMA’s unmistakable formstripe, put him at the forefront of fashion at the time when groovy was the move.
PUMA Clyde – Trainers
Owing its name to the basketball great, the PUMA Clyde were first introduced in 1973 and worn by Walt Frazier as he led the Knicks to their only two championships in franchise history. Later on, the PUMA Clyde would etch its credibility in hip-hop and skateboard subculture.
From Kingston, Jamaica, all the way to the world’s largest stage, Usain Bolt earned the title of “World’s Fastest Man” by blasting through world records and gold medals. But his hardest task may have been keeping up with his own speed. After a world-record dashing performance in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing to win the 100m and 200m races, and then as part of the 4x100m team, Bolt returned again in 2012 to successfully compete against himself in the 2012 Olympics in London. Again, amazingly, he dominated and became the first man ever to defend both the 100m and 200m Olympic titles.
The story doesn’t end there, however. In the 2015 Beijing World Championships, the expectations riding Bolt had lessened due to rumors that time, injury, and fatigue may have finally caught up with the “Lightning Bolt.” The results? Bolt once again won the 100m and 200m respectively.
PUMA Complete Theseus II – Track Spikes
Let’s face it. The truth is Usain Bolt may just be as fast barefoot as he is with a pair of spikes on his feet. Bolt’s record-breaking spikes are none other than PUMA’s Complete Theseus II, which should be bronzed and shrined if they aren’t already.