The Adidas Superstar: Still Funky After All These Years
Celebrating 50 Years of Adidas Superstar Sneakers
It was way, wayyy back in the day — 1969 to be right and exact — when German shoemaker Adi Dassler’s triple striped Superstar sneaker, with its scalloped “shell toe” design, began to make tracks across the basketball courts of America. B-ball players favored the durable leather and rubber construction of the shoe, a sharp contrast to the flimsy canvas make of the majority of sneakers heard squeaking across the court. By the mid-1970s, nearly three-quarters of all NBA players were wearing them.
From 1973 to 1975, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Milwaukee Bucks was wearing the Adidas Half Shell (the model with half a shell on the top of the toe and suede across the toe box), kids across America —particularly those in the inner city— were clamoring to wear the same shoe as that worn by the popular 7-foot-2 basketball star. And when Abdul-Jabbar was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in ‘75, his popularity with young fans continued to grow, along with corporate interest.
In 1976, Abdul-Jabbar entered into a then record-breaking, multi-year contract with Adidas. Signed on the dotted line at an Indian food restaurant located in Chicago (as reported March 18, 1976 by Jet Magazine), the contract was the largest ever offered to an athlete by Adidas, said Jack Childers, the Windy City-based agent who represented the star. Soon after, the Adidas ‘Jabbar Low’ sneaker was released to the marketplace with the aid of the larger-than-life sports hero.
By 1980, the Superstar was making a noticeable transition from the feet of b-ballers to those of b-boys, the first recognized breakdancers. Like basketball players before them, breakers liked the toughness of the leather shoe with the stylish rubber cap. Around the same time, the sneaker began to appear with the Trefoil symbol design (aka the Adidas “flower”), which was applied to the tongue and outsole of the shoe. Taking stylishness a step further, b-boys and b-girls began stringing their Superstars with 3/4" wide shoelaces colloquially called “fat laces,” stretched across in a perfect criss cross pattern. It’s a look that would become a staple among hip-hop fashionistas for decades to come.
Me, D and My Adidas Standing on 2-Fifth
A few years into hip-hop’s embrace of the Adidas Superstar, customization would be taken one step forward — or two steps backward, depending on your perspective — when the rap group Run-DMC began rocking pristine Superstars without any shoe strings at all! In May of 1986, the group released their hit single “My Adidas” (from the Album Raising Hell) and, like Kareem Abdul Jabbar before them, attracted corporate interest.
To their fashionable credit, when Run-DMC burst onto the scene with the self-titled 1984 album Run-DMC, the New York b-boy look (boasting athletic suits and sneakers), was already an established part of their fedora-topped aesthetic. The album’s back cover features a photo of Run (right) and DMC (left) dressed in matching red and black Adidas tracksuits with Superstar sneakers. Inset photos also show DMC, Run and the late DJ Jam Master J sporting what would quickly become their signature style of felt fedoras, black leather blazers, dark denim jeans and Adidas Superstars.
It was probably a semi-prescient recognition of their own “superstar” potential that would lead the image conscious rap group pull of a stunt that would forever link them with the German sportswear wear brand.
On July 19, 1986, during a legendary performance at Madison Square Garden, the headliners performed the hit song “My Adidas.” DJ Jam Master J asked who in the audience of 20,000 had worn their Adidas to the show. A company representative was standing backstage at that watershed moment when a tsunami of several thousand Adidas sneakers were hoisted up into the air.
That genius gesture by the influential rap group inspired the rep from Adidas to make the ‘Kings of Rock’ from Queens, New York an offer they couldn’t refuse. Within a year, Run-DMC was offered an historic contract with Adidas worth $1.5 million, heralding sportswear marketing’s first non-athlete endorsement deal. By 1988, the Superstar remixed “Ultrastar,” a sneaker designed for Run-DMC, was released to the American marketplace followed by other shoe designs and an entire Run-DMC-based clothing line.
Rock My Adidas, Never Rock Fila
By 1990, interest in the Adidas Superstar had begun to decline among the young hip-hop oriented demographic that had previously embraced it. But the shoe had begun to find new life in the dress codes of America’s suburban youth market. This was due in no small part to the crossover success of Run-DMC and their hit cover of the Aerosmith song “Walk This Way,” also featured on the 1986 album Raising Hell. In addition, the music video for “Walk This Way” would feature the Hollis Crew strutting across the stage in laceless Superstar sneakers as they showed Aerosmith’s lead singer Steven Tyler how to do just as the song advised.
Also sharing a hand in spreading the popularity of the Adidas Superstar from the city into the suburbs and greater rural America was the Brooklyn-bred rap group Beastie Boys who––as one-time protegés and opening act for Run-DMC––were far from strangers to hip-hop’s once preferred brand. For years, the Beastie Boys rocked stages dressed in matching yellow or green Adidas tracksuits (like Run-DMC) complete with Superstars. Immortalizing their own preference for the brand, the song “Sounds of Science” (featured on the 1989 album Paul’s Boutique), contains the rhyme-&-sample laced line: “Rock my Adidas, never rock Fila / ‘I do not sniff the coke, I only smoke the sensemilla.’”
In 1991, Adidas tweaked and reissued the Superstar and the shoe continued to enjoy a new wave of popularity among the skateboarders and the skate-punk wannabes of America. Some of the credit for this again goes to the Beastie Boys. Having reinvented their look and sound after Paul’s Boutique failed commercially, their metamorphosis would include relocating from New York to the skater’s paradise of Los Angeles. In 1992, Beastie Boys released the skate-punk influenced album Check Your Head. Centered on the album’s black and white cover, seated between crew members Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and the Adam “MCA” Yauch, is emcee Michael “Mike D” Diamond, still sporting a black and white pair of the iconic striped kicks.
All Day I Dream About…
For the next few years the Adidas Superstar would continue to find itself embraced by youth in middle America, as hip-hop influenced rock musicians continued to sport the enduring (and endearing) German made sneaker. By the mid-to-late 1990s, Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, Kid Rock (the self-proclaimed “love child of Run-DMC and Aerosmith”), and the band Korn had all, in one way or another, contributed to the popularity of the shoe with that burgeoning demographic.
Most noteworthy of the previously mentioned acts was when the band Korn gave a 1990's voice to an urban myth dating back to ’70s, which claimed Adidas was an acronym meaning all day I dream about sex. Ten years after Run-DMC’s famous ode to the sneaker brand, Korn also struck commercial success with the single “A.D.I.D.A.S.,” which was featured on the band’s 1996 album Life is Peachy.
And then, ten years after Korn’s successful play on the brand’s name (and almost two decades after Run-DMC), the brand would be immortalized again by rapper Killer Mike with the hit single “A.D.I.D.A.S.” Couched within the catchy, sing-song chorus “All day I dream about sex” are clever, coitus-inspired lines like, “When I drill I don’t spill, even if she’s on the pill / Keep my weapon covered, concealed in a shield / Cause I don’t really need no A-I-D-S — a ‘D’ and an ‘A’ missing out my Adidas.”
Yeah, I Bring Fevah Rockin’ Classic Adidas
In 2004, rapper Missy Elliott, whose boundary-breaking style frequently included varying versions of the Superstar, secured an endorsement deal with the brand––the first Adidas had made with a non-athlete since the 1980s. Following in the footsteps of Run-DMC, Missy would be the first in an impressive line of recording stars whose influence would carry Adidas sneaks into the shoe closets of the 21st century. Among them, Justin Beber (2012), Kanye West (2013), Pharrell Williams (2015) and, as of April 2019, Beyoncé.
In 2019, Adidas has marked the 50th Anniversary of the iconic Superstar with its “Forever Young” campaign. Included in its retrospective-fueled promotional materials are tributes to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Run-DMC, the influential figures who played significant parts in the ongoing popularity of the Superstar.
The iconic triple striped sneaker with a scalloped rubber toe cap has — like hip-hop itself — crossed regional and cultural borders to become a footwear staple for five remarkable decades. In the process, and like Germany’s beloved Volkswagen “Bug” before it, the Adidas Superstar has managed to make devotees of millions. With an impressive 50 years in an always changing global marketplace, the Superstar sneaker shows us that there’s something to be said for old fashioned dependability. And that good looks never hurt.
Paco Taylor is a writer from Chicago. He loves old history books, Japanese giant monster movies, hip-hop, anime, comics, Kit Kats, and kung fu flicks.