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Volume 21 No. 34
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His name is on the shoes — but who was Chuck Taylor?

Nike sues over iconic Converse sneakers, but who exactly is Chuck Taylor?

It seems like virtually everyone has a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor All Star sneakers, the iconic canvas shoes that have been around since 1917. Maybe not quite everybody, though, because Nike, which bought the Converse brand in 2003, says some consumers are choosing similar rubber-toe-style sneakers made by other brands, which the company claims have copied its All Star shoes and violated its trademark.

Among the companies it has named as hijacking its designs are Wal-Mart, Fila, Ed Hardy and Ralph Lauren.

But what some inquisitive observers may ask is this: Why are these sneakers often called Chuck Taylors or just Chucks?

Glad you asked.

The basketball sneakers were named after Charles Hollis “Chuck” Taylor, an American basketball player who was born in Indiana in 1901. Straight out of high school, he played for a number of professional teams, including the Akron Firestones in Ohio.

The Converse All Star sneaker first came out in 1917 and did not initially bear Taylor’s name. That came about years later, well after Taylor joined Converse in 1921 and became a professional sneaker salesman. A basketball player turned salesman may sound unthinkable for today’s hoop stars, but this was years before the NBA was founded in 1949 and well before basketball stars were being paid millions of dollars to play the sport.

Taylor joined Converse’s sales force in Chicago, although there are mixed accounts of what prompted him to do so. Some say that he loved the All Star shoes so much that he wanted to work for Converse. But the Basketball Hall of Fame, which lists Taylor as a member, says that in 1921, he “hobbled into the Converse Chicago sales office complaining of sore feet and persuaded executives to create a shoe especially for basketball.”

That fits in with other accounts that suggest the sneaker was initially designed not for basketball at all, but for soccer and a basketball-esque sport called “netball.”

As a Converse employee, Taylor helped redesign the shoes and also became an advocate for basketball in America. He was a player and coach for the Converse All-Stars, the company’s industrial league basketball team, and created something called the Converse Basketball Yearbook, in which the sport’s best players, trainers, teams and greatest moments were commemorated. He also conducted basketball clinics all over the country.

Taylor was so skilled at promoting the sneakers and the sport in general that in 1932, Converse put his name on the sneaker’s ankle patch. This was no Air Jordan kind of deal. Taylor reportedly only took a salary from Converse and didn’t get a commission from the sneakers that had his name on them and nearly 100 years later remain the best-selling basketball shoe in history.

Teresa Novellino writes for Upstart Business Journal, an affiliated publication.