The classic NBA player wore Converse sneakers on his feet. Much has happened since the brand was the clear leader in the sport, but Converse is in the midst of a massive resurgence to reclaim a spot as one of the premier brands on the hardwood. Over the past few years, Converse has returned to basketball – NBA and WNBA alike – by establishing a roster of athletes consisting of champions, veterans, emerging young stars and leaders in modern style. Those same characteristics work well with what the brand itself is using to take this next step. Converse is a brand rich with legacy and it isn’t shying away from it, but rather embracing it while applying a new, modern twist.
The latest example of this comes in the Converse Weapon CX – a reimagined, lifestyle version of the worldwide famous basketball sneaker worn by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the 1980s. The Weapon CX flashes back to Converse’s storied past all while embracing the now with the latest technology the brand has to offer. The shoe dropped in early September and it’ll surely be a staple this season for Converse athletes in the pre-game tunnel looks.
As a part of the Weapon CX drop, Ron Johnson, GM of Converse Basketball, joined CBS Sports for an exclusive interview on the release and the brand’s re-emergence in the basketball landscape.
CBS Sports: The Converse Weapon is an all-time classic, now the model is making a modern return in the form of the Weapon CX – what was the process like in deciding to bring back such a timeless silhouette and how excited are you to actually see it return with the latest tech the brand has to offer?
Ron Johnson: The Weapon is a classic for sure and what is exciting is that we are reimagining it for the modern-day. The Weapon CX is not a reissue – there will be a time for that – this is a reimagination and it could not arrive at a better time! The Weapon CX unlocks next-level comfort and next-level style. With this Weapon, the teams pushed on proportion and created a different stance. They’re using a totally new last. The toe down is different. There’s definitely something that is familiar in the legacy of this shoe, but it is progressive, different, bolder.
CBS: What have been some of the challenges with working with such a classic model and would you say there’s a level of added pressure/expectation?
RJ: The Weapon is loved by so many, so I would be lying if I said there wasn’t some pressure to build something that celebrates the past and pushes us into the future. That type of challenge is what our talented footwear team thrives on. The best part of updating a classic is that you can incorporate all the modern innovation. In the Weapon CX, we are contemporizing the silhouette as a thick midsole made up of Converse’s CX foam. Its exaggerated proportion is a step into the future without compromising long-lasting comfort, impact cushioning and an overall lightweight feel.
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CBS: In the modern basketball landscape, some brands are ultra-aggressive in pursuing athletes while others are more selective and look for specific fits – how would you describe Converse’s approach to filling out its roster of athletes and what does the typical Converse athlete embody?
RJ: That is the beauty of it, there is no “typical” Converse athlete. As is the spirit of the Converse brand, our approach is a little different. We’re building a vibrant roster that’s engaged, active, and has longevity with our brand. Much like a team, each Converse partner across the brand has a dedicated role to play, and each has their own creative vision. With our athlete strategy, it really is about the individual first and we love that about our brand.
CBS: Speaking of the Converse roster, the names include Draymond Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Natasha Cloud – what is it about this group of athletes that made them the early building blocks to the brand’s revamp in the basketball world?
RJ: We have the privilege of working with Draymond Green, Kelly Oubre Jr., Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Natasha Cloud as well as Abudushalamu “Slam” Abudurexiti and Jet Chang in Asia and all of them are about creating what’s next on and off the court. Each one of them is special on the court, from a performance perspective. Each one is also a leader off the court, in terms of style, creativity and their impact on the community.
CBS: As a historic brand with tons of impact over the years, how do you lean into that history while also focusing on modern tech and understanding current trends?
RJ: We honor the past, but we are focused on the future. Today, we approach product innovation through the design philosophy of ‘Future Familiar,’ which translates our heritage into original design concepts to create what’s next. Advances in style, fit, form and function are brought to life and scaled through five product concepts or aspirations across comfort, sustainability, sport performance, exploration and inclusivity – and of course, our heritage provides a fair amount of inspiration.
CBS: The kicks on the court in modern basketball are obviously important, but off-the-court/lifestyle products have never been more visible than in today’s digital era – how does that factor into the type of product/designs/athletes the brand focuses on?
RJ: We are the original basketball brand, turned cultural icon. Converse has unique permission to have a place on the court from a performance perspective and off court from a lifestyle perspective. From a style standpoint, so many of Converse shoes – from the classic Chuck 70s to the Pro Leather – look right at home in the tunnel and that modern runway has opened a new conversation in basketball that exemplifies our distinct approach in the sport.
CBS: Five years ago, the Converse Basketball revamp wasn’t a thing, but now it’s here and making noise – what’s the goal for the next five years?
RJ: We have seen an incredible reception to Converse’s return to basketball. The goal is to keep carving out our own space. Letting innovation, creativity and our partners’ individuality take us to new places while growing and continuing to offer great performance and lifestyle silhouettes.