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Stan Smith On The Tennis.com Podcast: How A Tennis Champion Became A Driving Force In Sneaker Culture
The man behind the most iconic shoe in tennis history joins Kamau Murray for a chat about life on the court, and how his greatest legacy was achieved off of it.
Published Feb 09, 2023
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There is no overstating the impact that Stan Smith made on tennis fashion. Without his iconic shoe, tennis simply would not have appeared en vouge as quickly as it did. While it's been many decades since the shoe hit the market, the popular footwear item remains entrenched with the cool crowd.
As Smith explained on the Tennis.com Podcast with Kamau Murray, it was never supposed to be this way. When an opportunity presents itself, you take advantage and seize it. This episode details the origin story of a tennis champion who reached the summit of his first profession, before moving on to an entirely different and larger legacy when his playing days were over.
Even know many young people associate him with their favorite sneaker, it's important to note just how successful Smith's first career was. As a tennis player he simply ascended to the top of the game at ever level. He won titles at the junior, collegiate, and professional levels, culminating in two major titles and the No. 1 ranking in the world.
"A group of parents in my area formed this tennis patrons association. They hired Pancho Segura, who in my opinion could be the smartest coach who's ever coached the game," Smith recalled. It was under Segura's tutelage in Pasadena, California, that he worked to perfect his craft. At 6-foot-4 he was a towering presence who could serve and volley at an elite level, while being able to move as gracefully as a much smaller player. Smith won the national title in singles at USC in 1968, and then three years later he hoisted the US Open trophy.
"I was the last guy to graduate from college to win a grand slam," he stated with a boastful smile.
Inevitably, it always comes back to the sneaker. The shoe itself wasn't even designed around Smith at first, but the opportunity presented itself when Adidas decided it needed a greater American presence to supplement French player Robert Haillet, the original name attached to the product.
"They were looking for a great looking guy to put on the tongue of the shoe, a great face. And they couldn't find one, so they got me," Smith cheerfully remembered.
It the first of it's kind, a sleek piece of fashion that brought mainstream attention to the game it was inspired by, and ultimately made Smith an unlikely fashion icon himself.
When the shoe was taken off the market in 2012, public outcry demanded that the sneaker return promptly. The re-release of the "Stan Smith Adidas" sneaker introduced the product to an entire new generation of citizens, and spawned collaborations with mainstream A-listers like Pharrell Williams, Kate Moss, and Stella McCartney.
And it even got Stan Smith the honor that solidifies credibility in pop culture: a shout out from Jay-Z in one of his songs.
"My daughter who was about 13 or 14 years old, came home and said, 'Dad you're famous!' I said, 'What do you mean?' And she said, 'Well Jay-Z has you in one of his songs.' I said, 'That's great! Who's Jay-Z?'"
Smith would of course become familiar with the successful Hip-Hop artist, and has learned to appreciate any and all recognition. He never thought he would be famous for something other than his racket skills, but the power of the product with his name on it has given him a legacy that has stretched longer and wider than he ever imagined.
This podcast shines a light on one of the most dynamic and influential people in tennis history, even more people associate him with a shoe instead of his ability on the tennis court. You'll hear Smith share his favorite memories of playing in the Davis Cup, creating a successful academy in his post-playing career, and how he hopes the next generation of tennis players can continue to grow the sport that his era introduced to the masses.
Smith opens up about his friendship with Arthur Ashe, how tough it was to lose him so early, and why the pioneer truly was a citizen of the world. The Stan Smith Adidas sneaker is a staple in tennis and in fashion culture around the world. Now listen to the story of the legend behind the shoe.