The story of a tennis myth and the shoe that made him immortal

“Some people think I’m a shoe”. The title of Stan Smith’s autobiography is highly self-deprecating. It is understandable to smile in front of the royalties obtained over the years, in front of the incessant fame linked to a name that has become a sneaker, to a sneaker that has become a name. It’s understandable to smooth out a thick moustache, never thinned from the distant 70s to today, from the retro grass of Wimbledon to photo shoots alongside Pharrell Williams.

“Some people think I’m a shoe”. Certainly the new generations think so, certainly those who did not grow up in the myth of a tennis player capable of reaching the top of the world, of winning the first Masters in history, of conquering the US Open in 1971 and the green London the following year. Results that were repeated and amplified in the doubles, where the legendary duo with Bob Lutz took shape: a connection that led to 5 successes on the courts of Flashing Meadows and Melbourne.

The pedigree of a racquet giant. Yet typing the search ‘Stan Smith’ on Google does not turn up images of serves, volleys and Davis Cups lifted (7, to be exact). Only images of shoes result. The namesake shoes, branded Adidas, which since 1973 have accompanied and duplicated this sacred monster of tennis: according to some, overshadowing his identity and career, according to others, including Smith himself, spreading his legacy in popular culture.


Stan Smith was coming out of Pasadena. He came out of postwar Los Angeles culture. He loved to skate, and he was very good at it, but what he was best at was the art of the forehand and the backhand. Born in 1946, after a dominant collegiate career shaped on the courts of USC (University of Southern California), which earned him three All-American honors and several NCAA titles, he began assaulting the Slams with his long and seemingly slouching physique, with his calm and balanced style.

They said he was a poker player lent to the racket. They said that his attitude, that his wooded moustache did not betray emotions, did not give opponents points of reference or character cracks through which they could unhinge psyches, points and sets. “When you walk on the court you have to clear your mind,” Smith declared, “you have to clear it of everything that is not necessary for the purposes of the match.”

A giant serve-and-volley specialist, his game was fast and effective, economical and pragmatic, highly cerebral. In 1972 he reached his peak, during the same years he signed an agreement with the brand created by Adolf ‘Adi’ Dassler in Bavaria: an agreement that would lead to the creation of the most iconic product in the history of the three stripes.


Robert Haillet was Stan Smith before Stan Smith. One of Adidas’ top athletes, in 1965 he accepted the proposal of the German brand, sealing with his own name the debut in the world of technical-tennis footwear of the Dassler brothers.

White leather, synthetic sole and three specular dotted lines. It was Horst Dassler, Adolf’s son, who invented this shoe. Horst also opted for the testimonial Stan Smith after Haillet’s retirement: an obviously strategic, marketing choice, due to Smith’s position in the world ranking, but also to the possibility of exploring the still virgin American market.

Smith wore the ‘Haillet’ for a few seasons: in the meantime, green Achilles heel protectors were added. Then he wore a hybrid model, between ’73 and ’78, bearing his face on the tongue and the words ‘Haillet’ on the upper. Finally, any reference to the French predecessor was removed, giving way to the definitive ‘Stan Smith’.


Adidas began selling millions of ‘Stan Smiths’ worldwide, impressive statistics that brought this signature shoe into the Guinness Book of World Records. In half a century of history, the demand around this sports object has never waned.

The single pause in production between 2011 and 2014, in fact, was followed by a relocation of the shoe in the streetwear scene, thanks to ambassadors such as Pharrell Williams and A$AP Rocky. In addition to the evolution of the ‘Stan Smith II’, the seemingly endless parable of the ‘Stan Smith’ has touched countless limited editions, produced together with celebrities such as Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and Jay-Z.

Throughout this relentless spread, the man Stan Smith first continued to play, then became a coach, and finally was named President of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Unanimously considered one of the best 100 tennis players in history, he has never been left out of Adidas. Between shoots, videos and ad campaigns, his face and mustache continue to remain inextricably linked to one of the most worn shoes in the world.

“I’m Stan Smith and some people think I’m a shoe. It’s basically pretty normal. Unless you’re a historian, it’s very hard for you to know my career…”