The Converse Weapon, From Magic and Bird to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

How Converse rebuilt the iconic 1986 basketball sneaker.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Converse Weapon Ad
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the face of the new Converse Weapon. Via Converse
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Converse Weapon Ad

At the Converse archive in Boston, where artifacts like Michael Jordan’s game-worn sneakers mingle with oddities like the footwear from the brand’s extinct line of kung fu shoes, a Weapon is not always totally a Weapon. Peer through the shelves of footwear and accessories stacked high, crack open the thin cardboard boxes that hold a multitude of bizarre choices made over the 100-plus years Converse has been in business, and you’ll discover that the Converse Weapon was a complicated shoe from the start.

The Weapon, a classic basketball sneaker made famous by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, was made in a spectrum of slightly varying designs at its genesis in 1986.

“There's been so many different versions of it,” says Brodrick Foster, who is Converse’s product director for “energy footwear,” which covers everything from lifestyle to basketball to skateboarding. “From what some of the athletes wore, the tooling was different, all these different things. It being a performance shoe, depending on the athlete that wore something, the tooling in the bottom and the technology was different at that time.” 

There are idiosyncratic Weapons, pairs that switch soles with other Converse basketball sneakers, like the Pro Leather or the Fast Break. There are Weapons altered slightly to fit the specifications of the NBA players who wore them. Given all the ways the model has zigged and zagged, what should the prototypical ideal of a Converse Weapon look like?

It’s a question Converse worked on for two years. In that span, the brand developed a 2023 retro of the Weapon that it says resembles the original Weapon better than any retro before it. (Before its 2023 re-release, Converse brought the Weapon back a few times, including in 1999 and 2014.)

Converse Weapon Black White

Ironically, this quest for the perfect Weapon was spurred by a version of the sneaker that intentionally diverged far from the ones Bird and Johnson wore. Converse brought back the Weapon in limited numbers earlier this decade via Rick Owens, whose namesake label released the first chunky-soled, long-tongued, logo-altered Turbo Weapon in August 2021.

The more recent Weapon pulls the pendulum back. The Weapon looks now how it did in ‘86, which orients the design again toward its roots as a basketball sneaker.

The history is not lost on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard who has been the face of Converse in the NBA since 2020 and is the star of a new campaign for the Weapon. He’s not met Bird or Johnson, but he knew about their roles in promoting the sneaker before he was tasked to do so.

“It’s crazy—they were the pioneers to the whole signature sneaker business,” says  Gilgeous-Alexander. “They were pioneers to basketball itself, the playing style we play today. They just have so much imprint on the game, on and off the court.”

Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s mastered the art of big fits, is an appropriate pitchman for the Weapon. He’s as good a dresser as there is in the NBA, a connector who can draw a line from the Weapon’s past as a basketball shoe to its present as a style shoe. Converse listened to advice from Gilgeous-Alexander when bringing the Weapon back to the market.

“He loves vintage,” says Foster. “He was like, ‘Imagine you go to a garage sale and the leather’s crackled and everything, all yellow.’ He was like, ‘Keep that going.’”

After loads of input, samples, lasts, and scrapped ideas, Converse arrived at its new Weapon (meant to look exactly like the old Weapon), which debuted in May 2023. Here’s how Converse remade the shoe, who helped the model along the way, and what’s coming next for the Weapon.

Rebuilding the Weapon

Converse Weapon Black White 2023 Retro

As Converse developed the new Weapon, it paid attention to the shape of the silhouette. Sneaker brands have been more inclined to reshape retros in the last decade—when Jordan Brand announced in 2014 that it would “remaster” its retros to make reissues look more their source material, it started a trend of brands putting more resources into tweaking sneakers to better honor the originals.

For Converse, this meant perfecting the Weapon’s last, which is the form that the shoe is built around that creates its shape. Foster wanted to build a Weapon retro that had a sleek, sharp appearance from the toe down.

“You look down, you don't want it to look like a bobo shoe,” says Foster, “but you want to make sure it's clean and cut.”

Converse made around 10 potential lasts for this retro Weapon, and voted on which filled out the shoe the best. The final is somewhere between a Chuck Taylor last and the last from the ‘86 Weapons. Even the colorblocking on the current wave of pairs hews closely to the early Weapons from the 1980s.

Converse turned to the Weapon’s contemporaries from that decade—ancient leather sneakers that live on as mainstays in the retro sneaker business—when selecting materials for the updated version.

“We pulled out every shoe, from 550s to Air Force 1s to Jordans,” says Foster. “What are those guys using? What do we want to do? We upscaled a lot of our leather just because we wanted to make sure it was nice and buttery.”

For the Weapon’s upper, Converse landed on a soft “bellissimo leather” sourced from PrimeAsia, a tannery in Taiwan.

Gilgeous-Alexander’s Converse Customs

Shai Gilgeous Alexander Holding Converse Weapons

Converse made Gilgeous-Alexander the new face of the Weapon, but hasn’t yet sold any Weapons made in collaboration with him. It has laced the Thunder point guard with at least one custom pair—designed by customizer Dark Phil Knight—that Gilgeous-Alexander debuted at Converse’s pop-up space at All-Star in Indianapolis in February.

That Converse Weapon replaces the traditional upper with grandmotherly fuzzy panels. It’s a departure from the formula—all leather, aged tones—that’s been used so far for the Weapon’s revival. 

“Above all,” Gilgeous-Alexander says, “it’s swaggy.”

He wore a similar sneaker in the All-Star Game in Indianapolis, donning a Converse All Star BB Trilliant CX, a shoe also reworked in Dark Phil Knight’s signature style.

Gilgeous-Alexander has an open line of communication with Converse, so the ideas they bounce off each other don’t necessarily originate in meetings. He’ll hop on phone calls or share screenshots with Converse on a whim.

“If something just pops in my head, I text them,” he says.

The Dark Phil Knight take on the Converse Weapon will not be the last of special editions for Gilgeous-Alexander, who responds quickly when asked if more are being made.

“Yes—no hints,” Gilgeous-Alexander says. “But yes, there are some special ones coming.”

What About Magic and Bird?

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Although Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are inextricably linked with the Converse Weapon, they are not involved in the latest retro. This year’s Converse campaign for the sneaker’s return references them, recreating old ads where they stood back-to-back, Weapons in hand, but does not explicitly name them. Gilgeous-Alexander stands in for the role of both in the ad. Neither Bird nor Johnson have an active relationship with Converse.

Bird did appear at a Converse pop-up space during the 2024 NBA All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis for an interview, but the conversation was conspicuously missing any mention of the Weapons, Converse, or even sneakers in general.

There are sensitivities around Converse directly recreating Johnson’s Lakers-colored Weapons. This year, Converse made new pairs of the original white, purple, and gold colorway that Johnson wore, but distributed them as friends-and-family exclusives. Converse will not drop the Lakers colorway at retail. Foster says that because the design is so connected to Johnson, releasing it again has proven extremely difficult.

“Don’t think we haven’t tried,” jokes Foster. “I’ve tried to twist it and turn it as much as possible. It almost got to the point where it was like, I might get fired. Like, ‘Hey man, don’t even have them in the office. Don’t even have them on a CAD. Don’t have them on a mural board. Just leave it alone.’”

Concepts, Fragment, and Virgil Abloh

Fragment Converse Weapon

Gilgeous-Alexander is not the only talent Converse recruited to bring the Weapon back. Its rollout for the shoe included veteran Japanese designer Hiroshi Fujiwara, who has worked on sneakers from Nike and its sub-brands for decades. In May 2023, Converse released a Weapon in collaboration with Fujiwara’s brand Fragment that looks rather like Fragment’s ultra-coveted Air Jordan 1 from 2014. 

Last year, Converse also worked with stores like Concepts in Boston, Titan22 in the Philippines, and Undefeated in Los Angeles on special editions of the Weapon. (Gilgeous-Alexander counts the Fragment and Undefeated as his favorites in this group.)

According to Foster, the list of collaborators was originally meant to feature the late Virgil Abloh, who’d expressed interest in working on the Weapon even before he did a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors for his groundbreaking “The Ten” collection in 2017. Converse was meant to meet with Abloh about the Weapon more recently, but time ran out.

“Rest in peace—Virgil did want to work on it before he passed away,” says Foster.

What’s Next for the Weapon?

Converse Weapon Low

After reintroducing the Weapon in its original height last year, Converse plans to push the low Weapon Ox version of the sneaker using the same strategy—a collaboration with A-Cold-Wall is coming. This year marks the first time Converse has made the low-cut Weapon widely available. It will keep the low Weapon dressed in vintage hues; expect cream-colored leathers rather than the brilliant white-on-white you might find on an Air Force 1.

Other than that, Foster is reluctant to share details about where else Converse will take the shoe. Might Rick Owens come back around to the sneaker now that its retro is well underway?

“We still have him as a partner now,” says Foster. “He’s an amazing creative person. There’s always different phone calls you get, like, ‘Hey I’m thinking about this; I’m thinking about that.’ We’re also just working on what the future could look like for Converse. But, definitely.”