On this day in 1938, tennis legend Rod Laver was born. The only man to win the Grand Slam twice, this wily southpaw was capable of baseline battle and equipped with a devastating net game, thrashing almost every man who dared to stand on the opposite side of the net.
The Australian-born Laver turned pro in 1962, following the first of his Grand Slam titles. From 1963 to 1967 he was banned — as all professionals were — from major tournaments, but returned with a vengeance and again claimed the four big tournaments as his own in 1969. He is the only man to take all Slams in a single calendar year, and is joined by only Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal in proving championship-caliber virtuosity on all surfaces.
Achievements of 47 tournament wins and five Davis Cup victories round out Laver's storied career… which also includes one of the earliest pro model tennis shoes. Launched properly in 1970, no doubt spurred by the previous years Grand Slam, the Adidas Rod Laver originally appeared in with rounded toebox (akin to Adi's other iconic racket sports shoe, the Stan Smith), before morphing to the silhouette known by most today. Laver, we should note, did play a hand in development, wearing prototypes during his triumphant run through 1969.
Today, the Adidas Rod Laver is a true cult classic that has found life in collaborative project, musical verse, and even other sporting venture.
Collaborative projects have reintroduced the original Laver, now the Rod Laver Vintage, and these have also further solidified the shoe in sneaker culture lore. High profile co-branded versions appeared through the Consortium range — with DQM, UNDFTD, and more — dropped during 2009 and 2010.
The Rod Laver, even as star of big projects, maintains underground appeal.
MF Doom dropped the most memorable musical Laver reference in "Meat Grinder", from the 2004 Madivillany album. He spits, "The worst hated God who perpetrated odd favors/Demonstrated in the perforated Rod Lavers/... in all quad flavors, Lord save us." This moment is memorable mostly because Doom is a human string of quotables... and also for its relatively obscurity. The Rod Laver, you see, is a shoe that maintains a subtle position in popular culture.
It is a shoe that speaks softly and carries a big stick, ubiquitous without over-saturation, and classic more for application than for association.
The flat toe of the Laver's second iteration drew attention of footbag-kicking hippies, the most industrious of which developed a special lacing technique to further promote the shoe's potential in the sport. As the official shoe of the World Footbag Association, denying the adoption of the Rod Laver in subculture is a moot point.