Who Was Chuck Taylor?
By Abraham Aamidor, author of "Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man Behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History," published by Indiana University Press on March 1, 2006. Foreword by Dean Smith and available from all bookstores or at www.amazon.com or www.iupress.indiana.edu, or www.bn.com, then type in "aamidor" or "chuck taylor all star" in the search window. This is the first full-length, all-original biography of Taylor, and corrects many historical errors in shorter articles on the man.
Who was Chuck Taylor? “The man’s biography begins and ends with his name,” Orange County Register columnist John Hughes once declared.
Not quite – Chuck Taylor was quite real. He played his first professional basketball game in March, 1919, while still a high school student in Columbus, Ind. He was 17 years old.
By the mid-1920s he was player-manager of a stellar group of cagers who shot hoops for the Converse All-Stars barnstorming team. The team traveled throughout the Midwest and featured Carlyle Friddle, one of the stars on the Franklin (Ind.) High School and college “Wonder Five.”
During World War II Chuck joined middle-aged high school and college coaches who worked as physical fitness instructors and coaches for the Army and the Navy. Chuck was a physical fitness instructor at a Navy “pre-flight” program at Marquette University coached the wonderful Wright Field Air-Tecs in 1944-45, at what is now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
College All-Americans and future NBA players such as Long John Mahnken, Big Ed Sadowski, Dwight “Dike” Eddleman, Bruce Hale, Al Negratti, Johnny Schick and others played for him.
Born Charles Hollis Taylor in rural Brown County in 1901, Chuck always wanted to be a star basketball player, and he almost was. His best team was the Akron Firestone Non-Skids in the early 1920s. The Non-Skids were an “industrial league” team, but in 1937 they were charter members with the Akron Goodyear Wingfoots and the Fort Wayne G.E. Techs in creating the National Basketball League. Though the Non-Skids folded during World War II, the National Basketball League merged with the Basketball Association of America in 1949 to form the NBA.
Chuck’s signature – that’s what most people know of him – was added to the Converse All Star shoe in 1932, after a series of business reversals for the company. Chuck, who had promoted himself via the Converse barnstorming team, and who had hosted countless “clinics” in high school and college basketball gyms across the country where he almost single-handedly taught Americans the fundamentals of basketball, became the new brand name for the shoe.
He started his All-American picks at this time, too. They were highly regarded because Chuck only selected players he had personally seen play, and he found talent in small Southeastern and Southwestern colleges where big-city sportswriters never went. He had a good eye, and his picks always were touted in the popular Converse Basketball Yearbook.
Chuck had his dark side, though. He, and his employer, often claimed that he was a veteran of the “World Champion” Original Celtics from New York City and “Olympic champion” Buffalo Germans. He was neither, but the myth helped sell shoes. And in 1957, he put on a basketball clinic at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., then ran off the with the athletic director’s wife. “He had women everywhere,” said long-time associate Joe Dean, retired athletic director at Louisiana State University.
No matter. His iconic shoe is part of Americana – look for it in the popular movie “Hoosiers,” or on Larry Bird’s feet while making a jump shot in high school, or as a popular, uniquely unisex “lifestyle” shoe everywhere.