“I’m a tennis player, but a lot of people think I’m a shoe.” – Stan Smith
Such is the dilemma for American tennis icon Stan Smith, a former world No. 1 player and a two-time Grand Slam singles champion. Because of the greatness of names like Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer pushing the male tennis tour to unseen heights (Hopefully you watched the Wimbledon final between the Joker and Fed. Unreal tennis. And then Nadal is probably on his way to becoming the greatest ever.), we often forget many old heads say the game is dying. With powerful baseline players dominating, no one plays at the net anymore. No one uses the volley anymore, or at least not like they did back during Stan Smith’s days.
Smith’s growth into the best player in the world was both surprising and predictable. While Smith was a three-time All-American player at USC and won the ’68 singles championship as well as the ’67 and ’67 doubles titles, he was also a late bloomer. As a child, he was reportedly rejected as a potential Davis Cup ballboy because the officials thought he was too clumsy.
Yet in 1971 and ’72, Smith won both the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, the Wimbledon title coming a year after finishing as the tournament’s runner-up in ’71. He was a star, but didn’t truly become an icon until adidas approached him about wearing the sport’s first leather shoe, a sneaker still on sale even today at Champs Sports.
It was in a Paris nightclub at around midnight that Smith met with adidas founder, Horst Dassler, who presented him with the idea of wearing this new shoe and how adidas planned to tap into the U.S. market. At the time, it was named after pro Robert Haillet, but the Frenchman was retiring and the powers that be thought they needed a new face. As the top-ranked player, and as an American, Stan Smith was an obvious candidate.
The sneaker in question was revolutionary, featuring the aforementioned leather and a herringbone bottom for better traction on the court. Ironically, the Smith logo on the tongue featured his mug without his trademark mustache, one of the few times in his adult life that Smith rocked the clean look. Over the years the sneaker continued to change and improve, moving towards a new sole and more support for the Achilles’ tendon. By 1978, the shoe received the official adidas Stan Smith name.
Over the next 30 years, adidas re-released the classic sneaker multiple times, often giving it names like the adidas Stan Smith II and the adidas stan smith 80s. It fell out of favorite among tennis players as the game moved toward more advanced footwear (although the Stan Smith Millenium helped rectify that), yet the sneaker is probably more popular now than it ever was. Somewhere along the way, it crossed over from a playing shoe into a cultural phenomenon. Everyone wears it now — women, men, style newbies, and even diehard sneakerheads — in part because it is so versatile and simple. Sneaker companies often work too hard at creating something out of the box. This shoe’s lasted because of its simplicity. Even Jay Z name-dropped the Stan Smith in numerous songs (“Jigga That N****”) throughout his career.
“Over the years, my shoe became not just a performance shoe but a lifestyle shoe,” Smith once said. “So now there’s a smorgasbord of shoes out there, different colors, different styles.”
Since it’s debut, we’ve seen the Stan Smith release in everything from pointed toe versions to wear with suits to baby shoes to Smith’s personal favorite, an all-black suede edition. Because of its white base, it’s also become a magnet for sneaker artists to customize.
In 2014, the shoe reappeared after a few years out of production. Through Champs Sports, which has the original white/green colorway as well as multiple suede editions available, you can collect and rock a history lesson on your feet.
“I think it’s a good example of something very simple, very classic, goes with just about everything and has it’s own distinct personality,” Smith told Dime in 2011 about the shoes. “I saw an article one time where Usher said he had my shoe in 20 different colors. It’s fun to see someone like that wearing my shoe as well. People from different backgrounds tend to like it because you can wear it with anything from jeans to tuxedos.”
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