Larry Bird and the Rise and Fall of Converse


Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

All basketball players are aware that the Nike brand dominates the basketball shoe industry, but who was before Nike? In the 1970’s to mid-1980’s Converse were king of the basketball shoe however, what was their relationship like with the Hick from French Lick, Larry Bird?

Larry Bird and Converse? Larry Bird, like the majority of NBA stars in the 1980’s wore Converse shoes. One of the most prolific Converse basketball shoes in the 1980’s was the 1986 Converse Weapon. The Converse Weapon had a shoe for Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, who were the initial endorsers of that basketball shoe. The Converse Weapon reflected Bird and Magic’s rivalry at the time.

Basketball fans are usually surprised to hear that Converse were such a big brand of basketball trainer, particularly in the early 1980’s (obviously the coolest decade). However, Converse had been a long-established brand. The following article looks at the relationship of Converse and Larry Bird.

Are Converse Basketball Shoes?

Yes, Converse are basketball shoes however, they didn’t start out life as a basketball shoe. It was only in 1917 when the Converse brand started producing basketball shoes. Chuck Taylor a basketball player and basketball shoe salesman sold Converse to the United States. He traveled around the country promoting the Converse basketball shoe through basketball clinics and was a one-man marketing machine who got Converse on the map. His basketball clinics were held across High Schools and University’s in America for decades.

What Basketball Shoes did Larry Bird Wear?

Larry Bird started his rookie season in 1979 by wearing the Converse All-Star. He quickly moved to the Converse Pro ( that had been made famous by Dr J ) which he wore during the early 1980s. These were his shoe of choice however, Converse brought scientific technology to the Converse Basketball Shoe and released the StarTech in 1985. However, it was the release of the Converse Weapon a year later which really put Converse on the map. The Converse Weapon was the shoe of choice for Larry Bird until the 1991 season when he switched to the Converse Cons for the remainder of his career.

NBA YEARCONVERSE SHOE WORN BY LARRY BIRD
1979Converse All-Star
1980Converse Pro
1981 Converse Pro
1982 Converse Pro
1983 Converse Pro
1984 Converse Pro
1985Converse StarTech
1986Converse Weapon
1987Converse Weapon
1988Converse Weapon
1989Converse Weapon
1990Converse Weapon
1991Converse Cons
1992Converse Cons

How did Converse get Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to do a commercial together?

The 1980’s was a tussle for NBA championships between the La Lakers and the Boston Celtics. The Celtics led by Bird won the 1984 championship following an intense battle with the La Lakers which were led by Magic Johnson. Through the increased media coverage of the NBA, it was obvious that there was no love lost between the Lakers and the Celtics. If you haven’t got one already, checkout the Larry Bird Swingman Jersey (clicking the link will take you to the NBA Store).

Game 7 of the 1984 final, which was won by the Celtics, was the most watched NBA game on television up to that point in NBA history. The finals had been a crushing blow for Magic Johnson, who felt the loss to his arch adversary deeply. In the 1985 final, it was a rematch of the La Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Magic Johnson made the final the Magic Johnson show by slowing the pace and pulling off brilliant pieces of skill. The La Lakers won the 1985 Championship at Boston Garden inflicting a crushing defeat on the Celtics. Bird and Johnson were at the height of their rivalry.

Converse decided to get the two best established players in the NBA and design a trainer for them both this was the 1986 Converse Weapon. When Magic Johnson heard of the proposal he told Converse ‘You’re crazy, I’m not shooting no commercial with Larry.’ Eventually, Magic was persuaded and expected to shoot the commercial in LA. Bird was adamant that he would not appear in the Converse advert if it was filmed in LA. It was agreed that the commercial would be filmed in French Lick, Indiana in order to entice Bird to take part in the commercial. When Pat Riley saw the advert he said ‘I saw the limousine going through the corn field and I said no they didn’t sell themselves out.’

When filming came along both Bird and Magic wanted to complete the commercial as quick as possible, they didn’t even shake hands in games and therefore, both parties were unsure how they would do a commercial together. The first shot of the day was a one on one game situation both Bird and Magic had to check with the director whether it was a real game situation or a joke game, the director confirmed it was a joke game and this relieved tensions.

During the filming of the commercial there were breaks and there would be a dialog built between Bird and Magic. This led to the players sharing and enjoying jokes together. At lunch Bird invited magic into his house, where Bird’s mother had prepared food, rather than Magic having to eat in his trailer. It was when Bird was having lunch where he met Earvin, who he preferred much more than Magic (who was Earvin’s on court persona). During the lunch they became relaxed in each other’s company. Through the Converse commercial the two had a period of detente which over the years grew into a very close friendship.

Do converse still make basketball shoes?

Converse in the 1970s and 80s were the shoe of the NBA. However, by the mid 1980s with shoe brands such as Nike and Adidas, Converse were competing with rival trainers. Converse lost the title of being the basketball shoe of the NBA and from that point onwards it was a downward spiral. Within the Converse business there had been over reliance on the success of the Chuck Taylor trainer which had been popular in the late 1980s but popularity waned by the early 1990s. Converse entered receivership due to mounting debts and slowly managed to turn its fortunes round. In 2003 Converse was purchased by Nike for $309 million.

When did players stop wearing converse shoes in the NBA?

With the 1980s revival in 2010, Converse Basketball shoes were back in the NBA. However, it was a short lived reprieve and by 2012, no NBA player wore Converse in the NBA. Udonis Haslem of the Miami Heat was the last player to wear converse in the NBA.

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James

A basketball court was built in my local park and at 15 years of age I fell in love with basketball. A late joiner to the game, I have played every season since. Some Indiana friends bought me some Pacers gear for my 17th birthday, and I have supported them ever since (who wants to follow the crowd). I love American sports apparel and the presentation of sports, they do it so well (bar all the advert breaks).

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