The past year of Converse basketball has taken the oldest brand in the sport in completely modern directions. And that continues in year two of the brand’s reentry to basketball with the July 8 signing of Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, signifying the building of both an athlete and sneaker roster.
“It’s been a fun ride for Converse basketball,” says Ron Johnson, general manager of basketball for Converse. “Our focus is to continue to establish and rebuild our own path within the sport. We are the original basketball brand, turned cultural icon. With that legacy and connection to culture, we believe we can create new ways of engaging with both athletes and consumers and break some rules along the way.”
Converse, a wholly owned subsidiary of Nike, first entered basketball in 1917 with the All Star, which turned into the Chuck Taylor All Star in 1923. The shoe was last worn in the NBA in 1979 and the brand was completely out of the NBA in the early 2010s. That all changed in April 2019 when Converse announced the All Star Pro BB and the signing of Kelly Oubre Jr., the first NBA athlete on the Converse roster. Since then, Converse has grown the stable of basketball-specific sneakers, including additional All Star Pro BB styles, the G4 and the lifestyle Pro Leather.
While Converse builds its roster of sneakers, the Boston-based brand has also put a focus on signing athletes, all with a bent on showing their individuality off the court as much as on. Gilgeous-Alexander joins Natasha Cloud, Draymond Green and Oubre Jr. “We’re excited to have him as part of the family,” Johnson says.
Converse has taken a different tact from other brands when signing athletes. “Much like a team, each Converse partner across the brand has a dedicated role to play and each has their own creative vision,” Johnson says. “With our athlete strategy, it really is about the individual first. We’re really looking at athletes we can mutually build hoops together with, those with a strong sense of personal creative vision that we can uniquely support as a brand.”
With Gilgeous-Alexander’s interest in fashion, Johnson says Converse plans to collaborate with the NBA player, finding space for him to express creatively throughout the development process. “Shai creates his own style,” Johnson says. “We look forward to tapping into both his creative and athletic insights and ideas for product.”
This dedication to individuality is a key component of Converse. “This belief drives everything from our marketing approach to the products we create and how our athletes and consumers can express themselves,” Johnson says. This shows in Converse’s NBA Hardwood Classics collection and a recent reveal of a Looney Tunes Chuck Taylor sneaker with Kith. “We’re just truly getting started,” Johnson says. “Expect to see more from us as we color outside the lines and bring a new and fresh perspective to the game and the culture surrounding it.”
Basketball serves as a growth category for Converse, both in sales and connecting to new consumers. Johnson says he’s pleased with the brand’s digital-direct offense for the All Star Pro BB and the player-exclusive colorways. “We’ll continue to evolve and update this silhouette,” he says. “We’re bullish on the Pro Leather as well.”
For the on-court product, Converse relies on its parent, Nike, for technology insight —something Johnson calls a “distinct competitive advantage” — while working to craft their own space within the company and the larger basketball landscape. “Think about it this way,” he says, “Nike leads the industry in innovation, Jordan represents the passion and flight of the game, we celebrate the individuality and progress of the athlete.”
Expect to see Converse continue to use Nike technologies but use Converse design in defining a style — on and off the court — unique to the brand. That was first seen with the All Star Pro BB, a contemporized and future-forward shoe aesthetic “inspired by the purity and simplicity of the first basketball shoe, the Chuck Taylor All Star,” but with modern technology fit for on-court performance.
Created in collaboration with Eric Avar, a lead designer on Nike’s Kobe Bryant line for years, the silhouette features a minimal semi-transparent design with a woven upper in Nike Quadfit mesh for both stability and lockdown during movement. Nike React cushioning fills the midsole. The aesthetic pays homage to the Chuck Taylor All Star with a diamond-pattern outsole, as well as foxing tape and a pinstripe on the midsole.
“It felt like the right way to get Converse back in the game,” Johnson says. While still evolving the performance product, Converse added to its roster with the G4 performance model, a more built silhouette than the All Star Pro BB and one that uses both Nike React and Nike Zoom Air for cushioning technologies.
The lifestyle-centric Pro Leather remakes a 1970s classic with modern materials.
While the first year of Converse basketball was about setting a foundation, especially with the introduction of the All Star Pro BB, and connecting back into basketball culturally, Johnson says fans can expect continued fluidity in responding to consumers and connecting products to stories.
“You’ll also start to see more of those culturally driven narratives from our brand including through the lens of collaborations,” he says, “which Converse has become known for.”