It's not a given that people my age or younger know the man behind the shoe, but I consider myself lucky that I do. In fact, that is probably one of two words that characterize my relationship to tennis. Luck and gratitude. Though I no longer play, I cannot think back upon my teenage years without tremendous affection for this sport.
I will never forget the day my father signed me up for a 2-week tennis camp at Valley Vista Swim and Tennis Club in Walnut Creek. I was 12 years old and he was deeply convinced I should give this sport—one that he loved—a shot. I did...and the trajectory of my life changed, without a doubt for the better. To this day, I remain grateful.
I was super lucky to have Michael Wayman as a coach. I can't even say that he was "my coach." I wasn't that good (he played professionally and today coaches at St. Mary's College of California), but I had a great desire to learn how to get good. I was also keenly interested in something else that Wayman taught: the history and development of the game.
Every night, he assigned homework. Though some players considered this strange given that we played for three hours in a summer camp filled with drills, training, competition and more, my father had Dick Gould's book "Tennis Anyone?" and I had a curious mind. I took it all in—learning about the game's origin and who shaped it for the better. I memorized the names and stories of the greats. To be honest, I haven't forgotten that much. Jeu de paume, anyone?
If you knew tennis records you had to know Rod Laver. I'll let the entry from the International Tennis Hall of Fame's website explain why.
He's a worthy subject of a much more than a shoe, but let's give some credit where credit is due. According to Adam Leaventon's post "The 50 Greatest Sneakers of All Time," the Rod Laver weighs in at #7. Not bad. It is, however, three behind the iconic Stan Smith. Furthermore, the Rod Laver which also comes in a white and navy iteration, was first produced in 1970. Stan Smith's? 1971.
Steve Rushin, a writer I have grown to love and admire for his unique and astute humor penned an entertaining piece in or Sports Illustrated on the man behind the other shoe. In "Stan on Two Feet" he writes
YOU MIGHT THINK Stan Smith is a fictional character spawned from Madison Avenue like Cap'n Crunch or Mr. Clean, a confusion that extended even to his own children, one of whom asked years ago if the Adidas Stan Smiths were named after Stan or if Stan was named after the Adidas Stan Smiths.
In the last half century, 50 million pairs of the iconic white kicks have been purchased, making "my Stan Smiths"—as Rick Ross has rapped—better known than the actual Stan Smith, who turned 70 on Dec. 14 and remains our greatest living endorser of athletic shoes. "For longevity, Michael Jordan and LeBron James aren't even close," says Smith, who wears Stan Smiths at home on Hilton Head Island, S.C., where he coaches tennis. When Smith told a reporter that 95% of people probably don't know that he's a real person, his wife, Margie, said, "More like 99%."
In 1972, Stan Smith was No. 1 in the world, winning Wimbledon 10 months after taking the '71 U.S. Open. And though he won 37 tournaments and eventually entered the International Tennis Hall of Fame, of which he is president, it wasn't until around 2001 that his daughter Austin became aware of her father's renown. "Dad, you're famous!" she announced one day. "Jay Z mentioned you in a song!"Two thoughts come to mind...and that's part of Rushin's genius. It's true, my Rod Lavers are fashion trainers. As a tennis player, they were never performance shoes. Look to #34 The Nike Air Tech Challenger (mine were not 3/4). Still love those bad boys...err...girls. And second, in spite of it all, I don't think I've ever met a Stan Smith wearing student or colleague I didn't like. My posting Sports, Spirituality and Shoes states that "While social scientists will say shoes are a reflection of our personality, I would like to underscore that they are an extension of our humanity." Certainly my choice to wear and defend my Rod Lavers is a reflection of that truth. Given that each pair of these iconic green and white kicks better known that the athlete, you could easily say the shoe has transcended the man, and his story. But I would like to think that if you are taught the right way, you might not. I am lucky...and I'm grateful.
Thank you Michael Wayman. You were a wonderful coach and teacher. Maybe all coaches shoes teach us about the history of the game they love....the greats...and even their shoes.