Today, sneakers are frequently promoted by star athletes wearing signature shoes, but it wasn’t always this way. The first company to make use of celebrity endorsement was Converse, which added the name of basketball player and coach Chuck Taylor to their Converse All Star in 1934. The following year, world champion Canadian badminton player Jack Purcell helped create the Jack Purcell sneaker for B. F. Goodrich. The time was clearly right for endorsements, but unfortunately, the majority of celebrity athletes who wished to compete were required to maintain amateur status and were not allowed to endorse products. Despite this, companies could still benefit from their association with winning athletes. In the 1930s, Dunlop received a huge boost in visibility after Fred Perry wore the Dunlop Green Flash to win three consecutive Wimbledon championships. Legendary Olympian Jesse Owens bitterly bemoaned the limitations placed on amateur athletes; after winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, he was threatened with being stripped of his status if he attempted to profit from his success. It is interesting to contemplate what might have occurred if Owens had been able to endorse the sprinting shoes given to him by Adolf (Adi) Dassler.

After the war, Adi Dassler went on to found Adidas, and his brother Rudolf (Rudi), with whom he was feuding, started Puma. These companies became two of the most important athletic footwear brands in the world and challenged the supremacy of U.S. manufacturers. Adidas broke into the American basketball market in 1965 when it introduced the leather Pro Model, and the Adidas Jabbar, the signature shoe of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, revived the practice of celebrity-endorsed basketball shoes. Puma was quick to follow with the Puma Clyde, created for basketball Hall of Famer Walt “Clyde” Frazier in 1974. Both the Clyde and Jabbar became central to basketball as well as urban fashion. However, the nature of celebrity athlete endorsements would be forever changed in 1984, when Nike created their first signature shoe for Chicago Bulls rookie Michael Jordan, who crystallized for a new generation the connections between sports, celebrity, and sneakers.