words // Nick Engvall
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were the definitive bad boys of college basketball. Watching them play growing up, it was clear that they weren’t only one of the best teams to ever play together, but they had a good time doing it. As a kid trying to find his way in the world, that was almost as appealing to me as the skill they displayed on court. Although, nowadays it’s rumored that their fun might not have exactly been “legal,” it can’t really take away from the fun it was to watch Jerry Tarkanian lead UNLV past the Duke Blue Devils for a national title.
The on-court star of the team in those few years, was Larry Johnson. Not only was Johnson officially “cool” with his gold front tooth, he was inspiring in other ways. Johnson wasn’t just an instant star out of high school straight to a major college. His path led him through Odessa Junior College in Texas, where two years of hard work and success launched him into the Las Vegas spotlight as the Rebels became NCAA champions. A success story like that is inspiration to all aspiring athletes, and to add a solid NBA career to his list of accomplishments, along with some of the most memorable Converse basketball shoes of all time, Johnson was the face of the brand through the 90’s, and the face of this Eastbay Catalog page in 1994.
Another player that took a similar path through junior college teams, and eventually landed on the Converse roster also shared the limelight back in 1994. Isaiah Rider, or J.R. Rider depending on how he was feeling that day, landed a signature model from Converse. The Sky Rider Mid was worn by Rider as he brought his “East Bay Funk,” a nickname attributed to his Oakland, California roots, to the Slam Dunk Contest in 1994. Rider defeated names like Shawn Kemp, Robert Pack and Allan Houston (who had one of the worst dunks in history), with a between the legs dunk that back then, was pretty much unbelievable, even at the Slam Dunk Contest.
Also showing up in this Eastbay Memory Lane visit are two other memorable Converse silhouettes. The Converse Backjam, remembered for the crazy print and strap system, and the Destroyer Mid, a rugged outdoor design that is a perfect representation of the early 90’s basketball shoe designs. Back then, almost all of the Converse shoes used React Juice cushioning, because well, there isn’t anything more responsive than liquid, right?
You think that React Juice is still functional cushioning all these years later? There’s probably plenty of sneakerheads that would love to see it return, functional or not.