Alexander Lendrum

Editorial curator, born and raised in Hong Kong.

The Ever Rising Superstar: The History adidas’ Most Iconic Basketball Silhouette

“Always original. Forever an icon.” This is the ethos to which sportswear giant adidas has linked to its most iconic basketball silhouette ever: the adidas Superstar. While those that fall into the millennial bracket will know the model to be more of a lifestyle option with older ties to sports that started somewhere back in the forgotten day, those that grew up in the ’70s will remember its storied basketball heritage, and have had to fortune of witnessing its progression and evolution from a performance-focused sneaker to the height of footwear style today.

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So with that in mind, this feature better serves the former audience; the younger crowd that deserve a comprehensive look at why the Superstar is helmed as the go-to sneaker choice by the footwear conscious and celebrities the world over, such as Pharrell Williams, Rita Ora, David Beckham, Eddie Huang and of course Run DMC to name but a few. Starting things off at the Superstar’s inception, the sneaker was first introduced back in 1968 as the the brand’s first low-top basketball shoe that utilized leather for its upper–a rarity in those times–which was quickly favored by famed pro basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who helped push the shoe’s nickname of “shell toe” from its obviously toe-cap design.

The Superstar then got its first shine in the limelight during the ’80s thanks to the legendary hip hop trio Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels, and Jason Mizell, known collectively as RUN-D.M.C., who famously sported head-to-toe adidas, namely the Superstars on their feet, thus cementing the silhouette in the minds of those wanting to look fresh AF as opposed to simply being able to play ball good. In fact, RUN-D.M.C. not only helped pioneer the sportswear movement within the hip hop and streetwear scene, but also helped revive the shoe that was already seeing a decline in sales. As adidas’ Marketing Director between 1984 and 1991 Angelo Anastasio stated in the doc Just for Kicks, “the Superstar was dead. But Run DMC singlehandedly brought that shoe back.”

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01:  Photo of RUN DMC  (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

“The Superstar was dead. But Run DMC singlehandedly brought that shoe back.”

And back it was, for its resurgence in the ’80s reverberated still throughout the ’90s–perhaps more so even, and with the likes of the The Beastie Boys alley-ooping it for LA’s X-Large brand, the adidas Superstar was deemed the highly coveted silhouette across the Americas and right back to Europe where it all started. But despite its popularity, the Superstar–like any real Superstar–had to face the harshness of the real world problems, and its construction, mainly its rubber sole unit, would eventually harden and crumble over time; not ideal for any collector. So then came the Superstar II, with updated construction and a hit within the Asian market.

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Then in 1992, when adidas launched its Originals line in response to the masses wanting more classics revamped and back on shelves, the Superstar started receiving a mix of renditions, from its classic all-black make-up with white stripes, to suede version, to Japan’s steel-toed Safety series. The skate world even got involved, so much so in fact that the adidas Superstar was voted in an early 2000s magazine feature as one of the top ten skate shoes of all time, with the skate scene (which included the likes of Mark Gonzales, Keith Hufnagal, Chris Hall, and Kareem Campbell among many others) eschewing the plethora of skate-centric brands of its time in favor of the once low-top basketball silhouette. As the decade moved passed its middle mark, adidas had started paying proper attention to the skate realm.

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But that’s not to say it forgot the hip hop crowd, or rather, the hip hop crowd never forgot adidas. By the late ’90s, icons like Jay Z and Puff Daddy were rocking the white-on-whites. The explosion of nu metal during this time even saw the likes of Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst become a serious ambassador for the Superstar (and adidas in general). Then rolled in the 2000s, and from then on, the Superstar was locked in as a go-to point of classic reference, an easy choice for anyone wanting to rep the three stripes, and a constant source of inspiration for anyone within the streetwear industry. A Bathing Ape’s NIGO, who was a fan of the model well before his BAPE days even spurred on a collaboration between his imprint and adidas, resulting in the SUPER APE STAR that saw the shoe clad in BAPE’s signature camo print among other subtle accents throughout.

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Fast forward passed the Rita Ora, Pharrell and Beckham phase and into today, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone with a consciously growing shoe rack not to have at least two, probably three pairs of Superstars. While adidas has plenty of other silhouettes to choose from–the Gazelle is getting its fair share of attention currently–the Superstar will forever remain a classic in all sub-cultures, which is why its name, despite the original designer still at large as a mystery, is so apt to what it has become–what it is–as a shoe.

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Alexander Lendrum

Editorial curator, born and raised in Hong Kong.