Stan Smith won the U.S. Open in 1971 and Wimbledon in 1972, but the biggest thing to happen to his career came in 1973 -- and it had nothing to do with tennis. Adidas decided to give the Robert Haillet sneaker to Smith, and the rest is history. He’d go onto be the namesake of the brand’s best-selling shoe of all-time and become the mustachioed hero—even though he doesn’t have mustache on the tongue of his sneaker—of footwear connoisseurs. But all of those accolades were nearly irrelevant to some of the people closest to Stan: His grandchildren.
In a story recalled for SHOWStudio by Gary Aspden, a long-time Adidas employee and the man behind the brand’s Spezial line, Smith’s grandchildren thought he was legitimized as cool when Jay Z name-dropped him on “Jigga That Nigga” on The Blueprint album, which turned 15 years old this week.
“Lampin in the Hamptons, the weekends man/
The Stan Smith Adidas and the Campus”
That line was able to change the way Smith’s grandchildren felt about his coolness. As Aspden recalls, “Once [the Stan Smith] gets to the ‘90s, Jay Z rapped about him on The Blueprint album. When I met Stan Smith, Stan Smith was saying about how his grandkids had been up to his house and they thought grandad was really cool because Jay Z rapped about him. Stan was quite pleased about that, because it made him look good amongst his family.”
In 2016, the Stan Smith has become commonplace in hip-hop, but then it wasn’t exactly the case. Jay’s reference in 2001 seems early, even though he refers to the look, complete with an Izod bucket hat, is “so old school.” Before he was known as a rapper, Kanye freestyled about the sneaker in 2002, saying, “Excuse me officer, I don’t know Rod Laver or Stan Smith,” while Raekwon predated both of these raps with a Stan Smith reference on 1999’s “Sneakers.”
In a weird twist of fate, Jay and Fat Joe used the Stan Smiths to squash their longstanding beef at Summer Jam this year with sneakers that had the Roc-a-Fella and Terror Squad logos on them.
Jay Z, unfortunately, wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with Adidas after the song was released, as he signed a deal with Reebok just two years later in 2003. Aspden, who previously worked in entertainment marketing for Adidas, said he never got the chance to meet him, either. Since then, though, the Stan Smith has seen itself remade by Pharrell Williams, featured Kate Moss on the tongue, and become the fashion world’s go-to sneaker.
Stan Smith, along with the shoe, has become a pop cultural phenomenon, even though his playing career ended decades ago. Some people may believe he’s just the name of a sneaker, as he addressed in a 2009 interview with Sneaker Freaker. “My name is there on the shoe, but, in all honesty, if you were to talk to a young person today, a lot of them would not even know who I am. They just know the name on the shoe,” Smith said.
All of these stories aside, Stan Smith’s legacy being legitimized to his grandchildren by Jay Z rapping about him 15 years ago might go down as the ace of his life's achievements.