How Converse and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander turned the Weapon into a lifestyle sneaker — Andscape
Outside the entrance of Converse’s global headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts, the newest ad from the oldest footwear brand in basketball history hangs.
The life-sized poster features Oklahoma City Thunder star point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s been the face of Converse in the NBA since 2020. In the brand’s latest campaign, mirror images of SGA stand back-to-back, holding two different colorways of the identical shoe — the Converse Weapon.
“People are probably thinking, ‘Why now?,’” said Brodrick Foster, Converse’s product merchandising director of limited-edition footwear releases. “But, we think, ‘Why not?’”
On Feb. 8, the Nike subdivision revived the classic shoe with the launch of the “Create History Not Hype” campaign, inspired by the original “Choose Your Weapon” ad featuring Larry Bird and Magic Johnson from the shoe’s 1986 debut release as a performance basketball sneaker. There’s one noticeable difference between the ads, separated by nearly 40 years: In the throwback, Bird and Johnson are wearing basketball uniforms; in today’s, SGA is rocking streetwear.
That’s because the Converse Weapon is being marketed around an athlete as a lifestyle sneaker, not a performance model, officially for the first time in brand history. The re-envisioned shoe dropped before the 2024 NBA All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, where the 25-year-old SGA will be an All-Star Game starter for the first time. Fittingly, the Weapon originally debuted during All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis in 1986.
“We said, ‘Hey, no one is gonna wear these on the basketball court. Those days are over,’” Foster recalled. “So, how do we now launch it in the sense of fashion, and in a way you could show the consumer how you could really style it?”
For the past couple of years, Foster and Converse’s product team have been working to perfect the Weapon’s storied silhouette to the original specifications of the 1986 model while revamping the materials for everyday lifestyle comfort.
“The shoe you would’ve worn back in the day had a lot of cement and no real cushioning,” Foster said. “We wanted to make sure we had the lightest foams possible. We even looked at a lot of running foams to make it more comfortable. And then, it was about just really pouring out some of the rubber, so it’s not as heavy on your feet.”
The process of revitalizing the Weapon was sparked two years ago by a random request from an unexpected collaborator — international fashion designer Rick Owens — to use the shoe as a canvas for a modern design.
“We started this journey with Rick Owens, an amazing fashion house that was like, ‘We’d like to take a stab at the Weapon,’” Foster said. “The shoe had been on ice for quite some time.”
“When we dropped the Rick Owens TURBOWPN, from there, it kind of sparked a conversation with the consumer,” Foster said. “We also started hearing from influencers. So, we thought, ‘We might have something here.’”
The success of the TURBOWPN led Converse to launch a series of Weapon collaborations in 2023 with respected streetwear brands — from Fragment to Undefeated and Kasina. Converse also slated an early 2024 return of the silhouette in its OG 1986 form. The brand specifically pinpointed SGA as the marquee headliner for its next Weapon campaign, especially as both his player and style profiles ascended in tandem throughout the past two NBA seasons.
“The one thing Shai did say as we were working on the Weapon was, ‘Keep the authenticity,’” Foster recalled. “Because SGA loves vintage, he was like, ‘Imagine you go into a garage sale, find a pair of shoes and the yellow’s cracking … keep that idea going.’ … So, from there, it was like, ‘If we’re gonna do this, what do we need to spend some time on?’”
First, Foster and the product team took a quick trip to C4 (“Converse Concept Creation Center”), which operates out of a nondescript building in Boston less than a mile from brand headquarters. In a hard-to-find, two-room space, Sam Smallidge works as the 116-year-old brand’s archivist, responsible for finding, cataloging, and storing Converse artifacts — primarily previously released and game-worn sneakers.
“The team spent two days with our archivist Sam and basically looked at every iteration of the Weapon we’ve done before,” Foster said. “There were so many iterations of the shoe. A couple athletes wore different outsoles and toolings. So, it was like, ‘Which one was the original?’”
From the historic debriefing, Converse focused on two specific elements, both surrounding shape, for the revitalized Weapon design. The brand wanted to develop the optimal “last,” which is the final mold used to mass-produce a shoe and to create the sharpest toe-down, or toe box, for the shoe as possible. After cooking up approximately 20 iterations while working with ten different lasts, Converse finally broke through on what the brand considers the most accurate recreation of the 1986 model.
“We spent a lot of time on this version of the Weapon. Previously, we didn’t obsess over all the details like this time — the storytelling, how we wanted to launch, color-block and materialize the shoe,” Foster said. “This iteration is the closest to the original.”
Converse’s finishing touch on the 2024 Weapon arrived by picking the perfect leather. The brand’s product team tested different leathers and synthetic materials while examining those on multiple shoes, from Nike Air Force Ones to Air Jordan 1s and even New Balance 550s. For this latest version of the Weapon, Converse rolled with a leather called “Belissimo.”
“We upscaled a lot of our leather,” Foster said, “just to make sure it was nice and buttery looking.”
Exactly a year ago, while preparing to make his first All-Star Game appearance, SGA took the court in an early pair of the reimagined Converse Weapon — but only in practice.
“Last NBA All-Star, I asked Shai, ‘How hard were you going?’ Do you think you could play in them? He said, ‘Yes.’
“We’re not recommending that, but you could probably play a quarter. Back then, this was a performance shoe, which is so crazy.”
In 2024, the Converse Weapon is a lifestyle shoe — on the feet of, and posters featuring, the flyest player in the NBA.