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The clichéd thing to say here is that Adam "Air Rev" Leaventon has forgotten more about sneakers than you'll ever know, but the truth is—and if you read this whole thing you'll understand—Adam doesn't seem to have forgotten a damn thing. He grew up a sneaker fanatic, paid his collector dues digging in musty basements for forgotten gems, then later parlayed his years of study into a career as an exec at Puma and DC Shoes. Right now he's testing free agency, but that's a good thing for us, as we were able to tap into his seemingly boundless knowledge. Read on and enjoy. —RUSS BENGTSON
Once upon a Borg, around about 1985, you already had your Bruins, your Shells and your Suedes, and maybe—if you were a fly type of player—your patent leather Concord Mids. If you lived in Philadelphia, New York or Baltimore, maybe you had your Air Force 1s. You tried to have something nobody ever saw before. You tried to customize your joints and put three pairs of laces in them to get that color combination just right and all yours. And at some point you might have said to yourself, “damn, I have laced my joints bar style, zigzag and checkerboard; I have jelly rolled them; and dyed them a shade of burgundy that no other cat has done.” Ultimately, however, they bit your style. How then, my fashionable friend, could you achieve the style they hadn’t obtained yet?
For a very brief period of time around 1985-86, there was an unusual convergence of rap culture and European culture. FILA was an extremely high-end European proposition. Ellesse had a jewel on the back, and you couldn’t afford it. Brands like T.R.O.O.P. and British Knights were about to ride the Euro wave and make paper, and emcees were moving the dial with English accents, both legitimate and make-believe. In that moment, just before Nike put a headlock on the athletic lifestyle market, sidewalks were saturated with Nike, adidas and Puma. But step into your friendly neighborhood sporting goods store, and next to the catgut and Babolat, Kneissl and Prince, you were drawn in by a wall of something very different for your feet. No one could tell you they were skippies either. Euro-pedigreed, and very new to the U.S.. Imported to the store by your favorite retailer. Imported to the block by you.
The list you are about to read details out The 50 Greatest Tennis Sneakers of All Time. The list is necessarily personal and is generally based on the following criteria:
Style: This is criteria number one. It is why I started buying shoes, and why most people reading Complex do also.
Innovation: This is not an article about performance tennis. Still, innovation and forward progress are mission critical for footwear companies. Innovation can come in the form of performance technology, but can also come in the form of advances in fashion or in the manufacturing process.
Story: I am a sucker for a good story. I like the G Vilas, but I really like what Guillermo Vilas was doing during Wimbledon in 1982. I wonder if he was doing it in Puma.
Tennis shoes are dope, I am honored to have the opportunity to dialogue on this topic. Feedback is 100 percent welcome. If you have any, please e-mail me at email@example.com and I'll respond if I can. In the meantime, bust out your Shoe Goo and get to reading!