Just in time for March Madness, Sneaker Wars has just come out, recounting the modest origins of the now-multinational multi-billion-dollar sports shoe industry. I just happened to catch the book review in this morning's WSJ. The story begins with the Dassler brothers' little Bavarian shoe factory, started during the thick of WWII. Fraternal rivalry caused the brothers Adi and Rudi to part company in the late 1940s, when Rudi walked across the river to the other side of town--the medieval town of Herzogenaurach--to set up a competing factory. Adi Dassler's shoe became, of course, Adidas. Rudi developed the Puma brand. Together, the rivaling brothers and their rival brands came to dominate the world sports shoe industry for decades. Adi and Rudi pioneered what are today's standard marketing strategies for sporting goods and other consumer goods, giving away free shoes to athletes and later paying stars to wear the logo.
It's a treat for me to read about the history of Adidas. Anyone who played grade-school basketball in the 70s remembers the dominant basketball shoes--Converse All-Stars and the Adidas Superstar, with the latter gradually overtaking the former both in the pros and in the school yard. According to Wikipedia, three quarters of all NBA players in the mid-70s were wearing the Superstar. I remember well getting my first pair. They were navy felt with white stripes (I know, I know . . . but remember, this was the 70s). I was a mediocre basketball player at best, but at least the shoes looked cool.
The sports shoe industry took a big jolt in the mid-80s, when Phil Knight signed Michael Jordon for Nike and launched the Air Jordan, which became the best-selling basketball shoe ever. Nike has dominated the U.S. market ever since, though Adidas and Puma appear to be making comebacks. You can read about Adidas' recent comeback efforts with its signing of David Beckham in the Prologue to Sneaker Wars.
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