Chuck Taylor Converse
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.

Chuck Taylor was an original all-star himself. No one has done more to naturally promote a product, and in so doing Taylor became the very first athletic shoe endorser. Charles "Chuck" Taylor was born June 24, 1901, and grew up outside of Columbus, IN where he was a high school basketball star. After finishing high school, Taylor played professionally, before the organization of leagues as we now know them, with teams in Ft. Wayne and Detroit. He also barnstormed around the country with the original Celtics and played for the Buffalo Germans and Akron Firestones basketball teams. Luckily for Converse, Taylor chose the All Star® as his athletic shoe. His interest in the sneaker and the sport of basketball brought him to the Converse Chicago sales offices in 1921 in search of a job. S.R. "Bob" Pletz was in charge of the Chicago sales office at the time. Pletz was an avid fisherman and sportsman and always took an interest in other sports-minded people. His hiring of Chuck led the way for future basketball players to become part of the Converse management team. Within a year, Taylor's input led to a slight re-styling of the All Star®, making the sneaker even more suitable for playing basketball. Two years later, in 1923, Chuck Taylor's signature was added to the All Star ankle patch in recognition of his significant contributions. During World War II, Taylor served in both the Navy and the Air Force as a consultant on physical fitness and as the coach of the Wright A.F.B. basketball team. Right from the beginning of his Converse career, Taylor took his sneakers on the road, driving to small towns all over America, conducting basketball clinics and selling shoes. "Chuck's gimmick was to go to a small town, romance the coach and put on a clinic. He would teach basketball and work with the local sporting goods RETAIL, but without encroaching on the coach's own system. He drove a big car, a Cadillac. And his home was the back of the car. He was a pipe smoker and talked with an Indiana drawl. I was fond of Chuck," recalls Steve Stone, former Converse president. Gib Ford, former Converse chairman and Joe Dean, former Converse vice president of promotions, worked directly with Chuck Taylor, during their years as salesman. They respected his marvelous ability and unfailing enthusiasm to promote both the game of basketball and Converse shoes. "Chuck's route never varied. He would stay at the same motels, meet with the same friends, eat at the same restaurants. He would also play golf 365 days a year. He was a down-to-earth, regular guy who had a charming way about him. People liked Chuck because what he was doing was great for them and great for the sport," asserts Ford. "Chuck knew every basketball coach in the country. He drove cross-country giving clinics and promoting Converse constantly on the road. He never had a home. He kept his things in storage in a locker in the Chicago warehouse and to him, Christmas was just another day. Chuck paved the way for Converse to be what it is today," recalls Joe Dean. Basketball and improving the game for players, spectators and coaches was Taylor's aim in life. Throughout his career with Converse, Taylor received numerous awards for his achievements and outstanding contribution to basketball including being elected to the Sporting Goods Hall of Fame in 1958. In 1968 Taylor retired. That same year he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and was formally inducted the following spring of 1969 along with Arnold "Red" Auerbach, Henry "Dutch" Dehnert, Henry Iba and Adolph Rupp. Taylor was the first endorser and spokesperson for Converse and rightly earned the moniker, "Ambassador of Basketball." He died in June of 1969 at the age of 68.

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