Cards & Kicks: Larry Bird
During the Cards & Kicks series, we have focused mainly on cards from the ’90s. Admittedly, it’s the NBA era that both Jake and I love. It’s where we fell in love with the game. With that being said we have crossed over into the early 2000s but never into the 1980s. Well, until now. This week on Cards & Kicks: Larry Bird edition we are going to take a look at one of the greatest ad campaigns ever. Converse Choose Your Weapon.
We’ve got a lot to get to here, so, I’m going to let Mr. Roy give you his take first.
Jake Roy – 90s BBall Cards
What can be said about 1986-87 Fleer that hasn’t already been said? One of, if not, the most iconic sets of basketball cards. It is known best, of course, for the Michael Jordan Rookie Card. Today we are looking at the best player in the entire set.
Yeah, I said it! Larry Bird was the best player in this set. In 1986, Larry Legend won his 3rd consecutive NBA MVP Award, as well as his 3rd NBA Championship trophy, oh, and his 2nd NBA Finals MVP. So, saying he was, at the time, the best player in the set is not a hot take. Saying this is one of the top 5 most iconic Larry Bird cards maybe a little hotter of a take. The rationale may have to wait for another day.
Take a moment to gaze upon the beautiful simplicity of this card. This was the 1st time Fleer made an NBA set and they needed to make a splash. The Red, white, and blue colored border is classic. The photo framed in gold jumps out. This may not be an action-packed photo of Bird but that wasn’t his game. The use of a full-length photo here is something I really appreciate. In the mid-80’s and early 90’s, kids plastered their walls with large posters of their favorite players that they aspired to be like. This photo fits in with something you may see on one of those posters.
Today, it’s like a time capsule of the era in the NBA. The form-fitting jersey with thin shoulders, The short-shorts, The classic Celtics crew length socks with green stripes, and then the “Larry Bird Shoes” all remind you of the hard-nosed, grainy pictured, pre-internet days of the NBA. Now, these shoes weren’t officially called the Larry Bird Shoes, they were called the Converse Weapon. Larry wasn’t the only NBA player to wear these. He wasn’t even the only player on the Celtics to wear them. The idea wasn’t to make them a player exclusive shoe. He was however the most popular player on his team and possibly in the entire league to wear them.
Converse focused on making a shoe that would be the new best shoe to wear for basketball and make them match the team colors for the biggest star in the league and sell them regionally. So, the Celtics got a green and white pair? Nope. Photos from the ’80s were low enough quality that one could assume the shoes and the deep green Celtics jersey was the same color, but the shoes were black and white. The Celtics franchise was peddled as a working-class franchise for the east coast which served as a juxtaposition to the Showtime Lakers on the other side of the country. Speaking of the Lakers, Magic had a significantly more flashy and colorful pair in white, yellow, and purple.
One commercial featured in addition to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas (white & blue), Mark Aguire (white & green), Bernard King (orange & white), and Kevin McHale each with the Weapon in the color for their respective team. The Weapon built upon the enhancements brought in the Converse Star Tech from the prior year. This meant improved ankle support and a reinforce mid-foot.
Today, I can’t imagine anyone playing in these without some serious foot pain. It’s rare to see a modern basketball shoe higher than a mid-top and in many cases, people are playing in low-top. The Weapon startles the line between a mid-top and high-top. You could get great ankle lockdown which came in handy if you roll your ankle in a game but otherwise led to a restricted range of motion.
What these had and still have in spades over many modern shoes is durability. That does make a lot of sense because a lot of people playing basketball in the late ’80s and early ’90s had easy access to outdoor courts made of asphalt.
So This isn’t a great modern basketball shoe but remember, this was the 1986. The Converse Weapon was competing with the Nike Terminator, Nike Air Force 2, Air Jordan I, Reebok BB5600, Puma Sky LX, and Adidas Attitude. So best was very relative because I wouldn’t recommend playing in any of these today but those were the best available in 1986. Converse was the segment leader at the time, they were promoted by many of the biggest star, and you were told they were the best on the market so it seemed like an obvious choice. Because of all that, these are still lauded as a classic but mainly just worn casually with a nod to their former athletic glory. Nevertheless, the shoes are iconic and so is this card!
Larry Bird / Magic Johnson Choose Your Weapon
Thank you for checking in this week. Jake and I would love to know your thoughts about Bird and Magic, so please share them in the comment section. If you aren’t following Jake already, please check out his YouTube channel and hit that subscribe button. You will find lots of great basketball content there. Finally, the Cards & Kicks: Larry Bird edition art was created by Scott Hodges. Make sure to check out Scott over on his site as well.