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adidas Superstar 50 - Three in the 6

There are a few examples within the sneaker world of designs that have not only stood the test of time, but have actually grown in status despite being a regular staple of a manufacturer’s catalogue for many decades.

The adidas Superstar is one of those sneakers, and the big news for 2020 is that this venerable, vintage court shoe will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary.

It’s a remarkable milestone, particularly when you consider how the shoe’s appeal managed to jump a significant generational gap.

One reason for the Superstar’s persistent popularity can be traced to the successful repurposing of its design, a transition from its original intended use as a pure performance shoe into a fashionable, laid-back sneaker. It was this evolutionary process that made the Superstar one of adidas’ most recognizable profiles.

adidas Superstar 50 - Three in the 6
By 1975 the Superstar (bottom left) shared the court with the Promodel, Americana, and Tournament.

Given the current trend of often-outlandish NBA signature shoes and big money contracts, it might be difficult to imagine that the simple-by-comparison Superstar once represented the pinnacle of the sport’s footwear.

The Superstar was originally introduced for the 1979-1980 NBA season and was a collaborative effort of adidas’ design teams in Germany and France. The shoe incorporated a special ribbed toe cap that was meant to increase durability but has since become its signature detail.

With better cushioning, grip, and more supportive leather upper, the Superstar ended Converse’s on-court dominance. The new design was meant to match the increasing athleticism and physicality of professional basketball players, and in the process it revolutionized basketball footwear by becoming the first all-leather low top.

The Superstar made canvas high tops obsolete, a development that Converse never recovered from.

Lending credibility to its pretentious name, the shoe was adopted by actual superstars of the day such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. However, you’re far more likely to find Superstars being worn today by a gaggle of teenage girls at the mall than on the feet of a serious baller.

How did the sneaker manage to such an unlikely feat?

Initially adopted as a street shoe just as someone today would wear the shoes of their basketball hero, the Superstar was embraced by popular culture. Most famously they were worn by RUN DMC during the embryonic period of what is now known as the hip-hop revolution.

Celebrity had reinvented the Superstar and elevated its status to street cool; people were suddenly buying the outdated design because of its association with music, and not because they were sport fans.

All of that is ancient history now. An even greater challenge faced the Superstar, which was its survival of the unforgiving phases and fickle fads of sneaker culture.

To achieve this adidas subjected the former performance shoe to a seemingly endless cycle of reinventions over the past four decades. The Superstar’s original plain white leather became a blank canvas for myriad colour and material variations. And of course other celebrities put their more contemporary stamps on the design.

Fifty years of Superstar is an astonishing story. Like a torch being passed from one generation to the next, its appeal and longevity can in part be credited to good bones:  ultimately practical, always affordable, extremely wearable, and durable, the Superstar is one of the ultimate anti-statement, statement shoes.

adidas Superstar 50 - Three in the 6
The first two anniversary models? adidas x Disney Mickey Mouse (top) and Superstan (bottom) should be a taste of what's to come this year.

How will adidas celebrate this momentous birthday?

2020 is kicking off with two notable Superstar models, but typical of adidas’ woeful marketing (at least in Canada) neither offering promotes the 50-year anniversary.

A just-released collaboration between adidas and Disney produced a Mickey Mouse Superstar edition (there’s a Stan Smith Mickey Mouse too), and in early February there will be a mash-up of those two shoes called the Superstan, which sees classic Stan Smith elements morphed into a Superstar silhouette.

There will be more of course – and we can’t wait.

It’s the year of the Superstar. Now is time to pull all of those Superstars you’ve collected over the years out of the closet and to rock them at every opportunity.