In our latest full-length feature, Counter Kicks remembers the Converse Weapon – the ‘80s Shoe to the Stars, and one of the sneaker industry’s most famous icons. Continue reading for more photos, 2 original Converse commercials, and our complete in-depth story…
*Update: Also view our Converse Weapon ’86 Pictorial here!
When the Converse Weapon debuted in 1986, the athlete-shoe relationship was in its formative stage. Michael Jordan and Nike had formed a groundbreaking partnership in 1984 – releasing Air Jordan I in March 1985 – but most athletic footwear was still seen as utilitarian equipment with an expiration date. Personal stories had not been tied to shoe design as no company had ever marketed products for an individual athlete with detectable success, especially not on a mass scale, and because personality had not been established as a focal selling point of those products.
The Visible Sneaker Era
Basketball shoes weren’t so much promoted as they were name-dropped; loosely attached to solid players on great teams. Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson wore the Reebok Pro Legacy and Reebok Commitment. Robert Parish laced up the Avia 880. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had the adidas Skyhook Low, and James Worthy liked the New Balance BB800. Since the ’Chuck Taylor’ All-Star age of the 1950s and 60s, Converse had only one shoe they could hoist as an effective, somewhat modern basketball shoe: the Pro Leather High that Julius Erving donned. The athletic footwear industry in the mid-1980s was shifting away from afterthought simplicity. It was important that Converse re-assert its presence in performance basketball footwear yet retain its tradition as a player‘s brand.
Genesis of the Weapon
The concept of the Weapon was rooted in the idea that a shoe could work for and represent any player: professionals, amateurs, gym rats, weekenders. It wasn’t designed for a specific basketball player whose personality would be wrapped around its image. Instead, Converse blocked the Weapon in colors that represented several elite NBA players. Whether it was neutral Black/White for Larry Bird and Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics), White/Purple/Yellow for Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers), White/Blue for Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons), White/Orange for Bernard King (New York Knicks), White/Green for Mark Aguirre (Dallas Mavericks) or White/Black and White/Gold, Converse ensured that the Weapon was not only identifiable on the most high profile basketball players of the day, but also that its various colorways were easily adaptable to vast numbers of players at every level of the sport. This product placement enabled the Weapon to deftly walk the line between team grit and star glory. It was the first basketball shoe of its era that was presented as endorsing the players who wore it – whatever their skill level – rather than the players endorsing the shoe.
Iconic Imagery, Ready-Made Rivalry
Converse introduced the Weapon with its advertisement campaign featuring the Bird-McHale-Johnson-Thomas-King-Aguirre group. In a clever TV spot – the Converse Rap – all six players trade off verses in a rhyme that communicated the players’ personas in a down-to-earth manner while simultaneously boosting the Weapon’s status with the force of the players’ widely-acknowledged, impressive basketball skills.
Though the Weapon had begun its public life as a team-oriented shoe with high aspirations, its iconic image and place in sneaker history would be etched by the NBA’s two best players – Bird and Johnson – who played for the NBA’s two best teams and biggest opponents: the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
The Bird-Johnson rivalry dated back to 1979 when Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores and Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans met in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game, and it followed them into the NBA. Preceding the Weapon‘s memorable first steps, Bird’s Celtics beat Magic’s Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals. The next year, Magic wrested the championship away from Bird. In 1986, Bird took the title back and, as he declares in the Converse Rap commercial, “walked away with the MVP” – wearing the Weapon, of course.
Converse, keen on harnessing the attraction of the Bird-Magic duel, followed the Rap commercial with the French Lick, Indiana commercial – a limousine-chauffeured Magic interrupting Bird’s rural shootaround for a game of 1-on-1, both players in Weapons.
Magic’s Converse moment would come the following year as his White/Purple/Yellow Weapons helped him fastbreak the Lakers to winning the 1987 NBA title against Bird and Boston. The two players would never again face each other in the Finals but their prodigious play in the Weapon cemented the shoe’s reputation as one of the most high-profile sneakers in history.
For all its notoriety, Weapon’s components were simple: full-grain leather upper with Y-bar leather ankle overlay, cupsole with TPU (thermoplastic urethane) midsole, and independent, or “broken”, herringbone traction pattern. The ingredients look rudimentary by today’s standards but in 1986 and 1987 they offered useful support and appealing design layout, providing a competent, reliable performance choice.
The Weapon continues to be a resourceful sneaker today. A testament to its solid fundamentals, Kobe Bryant wore the Magic Johnson colorway for a couple of games during his sans-sneaker-contract 2002-03 NBA season. Around the same time, Converse released the Loaded Weapon, a contemporary basketball shoe with modest styling cues that nodded towards the Weapon. This fall season, Converse unveiled the Weapon Evo, a 21st century re-imagining of the 1986 original. Penned by Converse Design Director Michael DiTullo, the Weapon Evo brings a current cushioning system (Converse Balls Technology) to the court along with the Weapon’s most famous colorways, time-tested Y-bar support, broken herringbone traction, and the renowned Star Chevron logo.
Though the athletic footwear landscape has drastically changed in the 23 years since the Weapon’s introduction, the silhouette remains popular; a tribute to a time when shoes were straightforward and basketball was legendary.
Molly Carter, Director of Sports Communications at Converse, believes the Weapon’s mark is a lasting one.
“It was one of those things that has stuck and that’s why we reintroduce it,” she says. “It made a huge cultural impact.”