Rating: 7/10

First published: 2018

Author: Nicholas Smith

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The history of sneakers from every angle: surfing, skating, hip hop, basketball, football, etc.


  • The sneaker’s transition from sportswear to streetwear came from the bottom up—you wore what you saw in the neighborhood—as well as from the top down: you wore what you saw in the culture.
  • In the 1960s, running in public was reserved for athletes and eccentrics. Early joggers were often harassed by motorists who threw beer cans or taunts. One Nike employee was told to “get a horse”. “It wasn’t popular, it wasn’t unpopular—it just was,” Knight recalled years later. “To go out for a three-mile run was something weirdos did, presumably to burn off manic energy. Running for pleasure, running for exercise, running for endorphins, running to live better and longer—these things were unheard of.”
  • Each New York City borough and neighborhood had its own subtle ways of dressing. If you saw someone wearing a velour sweat suit that matched the brand of his sneakers, you were in early 80s Harlem. Clarks shoes and Cazal glasses with thick black frames were popular in Brooklyn. PRO-Keds 69er sneakers, basketball shoes that, at a distance, could be confused with Chuck Taylors, were known as “Uptowns” because they were especially popular in the Bronx and Harlem.
  • The first had started with Def Jam Recordings’ founder, Russell Simmons—Run’s older brother—noticing how many people were buying Adidas Superstars just because the members of Run-DMC were wearing them. In DMC’s telling, Simmons, high on angel dust, suggested that the group record a song about the shoes.
  • In a display of clever stagecraft, before launching into “My Adidas”, Run-DMC asked their fans to hold their shoes up in the air. The crowd of tens of thousands obliged. “Everybody had on new Adidas,” DMC recalled years later. “There was nothing but three stripes in there and that made Adidas say, “Yo, we giving y’all a deal.”
  • Shortly after the Madison Square Garden show, Run-DMC marked another first for hip-hop: the first million-dollar contract with an athletic shoe company. The deal was the first between any athletic apparel company and a non-sports star or team. An important line had been crossed: suddenly you no longer needed to be a basketball star to endorse basketball shoes. Musicians and other celebrities had worn sneakers, but with its sponsorship of Run-DMC a major brand was now willing to pay for that star power.
  • Run-DMC didn’t invent the practice of flashing a particular brand, of course; it had been a staple of hip-hop as a way to differentiate your b-boy crew.
  • Other hip-hop groups began to ally themselves with sneaker brands. MC Shan, who had rocked Puma since his b-boy days, started a beef by rapping “Puma’s the brand cause the Klan makes Troops” on his 1988 track “I Pioneered This”—which angered LL Cool J, the poster boy of the brand Troop which was (falsely) rumored on the street to be made by the KKK. Heavy D & The Boyz recorded a tinny track titled “Nike” on their 1987 debut album. Doug E. Fresh swore by the Swiss brand Bally and, possibly upset by the Bally diss on “My Adidas”, featured a pair of his sneakers blowing away a pair of Superstars in a Wild West-style music video segment.