Everyone has heard the name Stan Smith somewhere, but hopefully you’ve heard his name in reference to his accomplishments on the tennis court. If not, it’s likely you’ve seen or owned a pair of the classic adidas Stan Smith tennis shoes that are in their 40th year of production. With highlights that include winning the 1971 US Open, 1972 Wimbledon and a No. 1 overall ranking in the world, he was kind of a big deal. We were able to talk to the man worthy of bearing his name and face on a pair of shoes recently, about everything from playing high school basketball to hanging out with the Lakers to the Duke-Carolina rivalry.
Dime: I heard you’re recovering from a recent elbow surgery. Anything major or just wear and tear over the years?
SS: It’s not a huge deal. It’ll be a few months but it’s not a big deal. Just wear and tear.
Dime: Talk about the feeling of winning a singles Grand Slam and becoming the best individual in the world to play your sport.
SS: I set these goals when I was 16 or 17 to be a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team, to be No. 1 in the United States, to win Wimbledon and to be No. 1 in the world, so it was sort of the culmination of all that. And it was a dream goal that I had to do. It was an exciting time.
It’s very special and satisfying to do something like that. I was No. 1 for ’72 and co-No. 1 with John Newcombe in ’71. It’s hard to get there, but it’s even harder to stay there because you’re now a target for everybody else. You have to try to figure it out on your own and that’s one of the great things about tennis. It’s mano y mano. I don’t know what other individual sports there are that you really have to figure it out on your own tactically, technically, emotionally and physically, so it’s the ultimate test really.
Dime: Tell me about when and how you were approached to put your name on an adidas tennis shoe? Did you have any input on the design?
SS: The first leather tennis shoe ever was my shoe. It was actually designed by a fellow named Robert Haillet in ’65. In ’71, adidas wanted to get into the U.S. market and I was the No. 1 player then in the United States and the world, and they said, “Well, let’s put your name on it.” So they had Robert Haillet’s name on it and my name on it for about three years and slowly evolved his name off the shoe and it just became my name on the shoe. A lot of players, as well as myself, wore it because it was the first leather tennis shoe and adidas actually had a deal with the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) where ATP members could get adidas clothing and shoes.
They’re the ones that designed it and it really hasn’t changed too much since they designed it. Even to this day.
Dime: Whose idea was it to put your face on the tongue?
SS: I don’t know whose idea it was. I don’t think that Haillet’s face was on the tongue. Haillet’s face was on the side of the shoe and they put my face on the tongue. Then they finally took his name off the shoe and my name was on the tongue there for a long time.
Dime: Talk about the relationship that you’ve had with adidas over the years.
SS: It’s sad, I realized I’ve probably been with adidas longer than any of the 1200 people that were there, the sales force and some of the top accounts that they have. The more I thought about it, around the whole world of people involved with adidas, I’ve probably been there the longest. This year will be 40 years. They’ve sold close to about 40 million pairs now.
Dime: Do you have any input on new releases?
SS: Now they have a group of people that do designing. They design different materials, different colors, different designs; it’s the same basic shoe, but it’s amazing how many different looks they have.
Dime: Have you ever heard the Jay-Z lyric, “Lampin in the Hamptons, the weekends man. The Stan Smith adidas and The Campers”?
SS: I’ve heard one, but not that one. I’ve heard the one that goes something like, “Chillin in my white Stan Smith adidas.” That was probably about 15 years ago. I guess he’s mentioned it a couple of times.
Dime: Talk about how your shoe has crossed over not only into the urban culture but other cultures and styles of fashion as well.
SS: It’s kind of fun to see. Over the years people have come up to me and told me stories. A guy from Harlem actually came up to me and said a lot of the guys wore the shoe in the ‘hood. Some of the people in fraternities or sororities would say, “Everybody in our sorority wears this shoe.” People on different tennis teams would wear it. In Paris, it became very fashionable to wear a tennis shoe laced to the toe in all white. Of course my shoe was originally fresh, so that was the shoe that was very popular with everything – including tuxedos.
Dime: Why do you think they’re still popular today?
SS: I think it’s a good example of something very simple, very classic, goes with just about everything and has it’s own distinct personality. I saw an article one time where Usher said he had my shoe in 20 different colors. It’s fun to see someone like that wearing my shoe as well. People from different backgrounds tend to like it because you can wear it with anything from jeans to tuxedos.