New book details the man behind the shoe

Jim Walker

'Chuck Taylor, All Star' by Abraham Aamidor (Indiana University Press, $21.95)

Millions of us, including Indianapolis writer Abraham Aamidor, walk around in the iconic canvas basketball shoes stamped with Chuck Taylor's name. But few know the first thing about the man behind our "Chucks." Aamidor hopes to change that with his new book, Chuck Taylor, All Star from Indiana University Press.

Five years ago, Aamidor, who works for The Indianapolis Star, wrote a story for the paper about the last Converse factory in America closing its doors. In the process, he looked into Taylor and his connections to Indiana. He discovered very little information about this Columbus, Ind., native other than his inclusion in the Basketball Hall of Fame. In his early research, Aamidor found some people calling Taylor a myth. One columnist wrote that Taylor's biography "begins and ends with his name."

Meanwhile, Aamidor was searching for a good subject for a biography. He had written two college journalism textbooks. But he spent most of his career writing newspaper stories. "I wanted to do long-form journalism," Aamidor said. "I wanted to do something more substantial."

But getting started wasn't easy. He found most he considered, even those thought pretty obscure, had recent books out about them. "The idea is to find a biography worth doing that somebody hasn't written already," he said. "That's hard."

Surely, that was the case with Taylor, whose Chucks rank with baseball, hot dogs and Air Jordans among the biggest American icons. But Aamidor found no books - or much of anything else - written about Taylor. "It was like finding a $20 bill in the street. It was just there. All I had to do was pick it up," Aamidor said.

He soon discovered the downside of the lack of published material on Taylor - and the reason why nobody had written a book about him. Taylor died in 1969, the same year he was selected for the Hall of Fame. He didn't leave behind a diary or an extensive collection of letters. He didn't have any children. Other friends and relatives from his early days were long dead. So Aamidor made due with what he could dig up over the course of three years.

Abraham Aamidor

"It was a quest," Aamidor said. "The greatest fun was in doing the research. It was exciting to find things like the divorce papers from his first marriage." While that doesn't sound like a big deal, for Aamidor, it was 70 pages of documents about a man who didn't leave much of a trail behind. "He didn't live in the past," Aamidor said. A golf pro said he played for three or four years with Taylor on a regular basis before learning that he was the Chuck Taylor.

What Aamidor found out and what the book reveals is sketchy about Taylor's early years in Indiana followed by more compelling later details gathered from sources like Taylor's old friend, Hoosier basketball legend John Wooden. At first, Wooden wasn't interested in being interviewed for the book. He eventually accepted Aamidor's request and turned out to be a key component.

Another important find was access to the home where Taylor lived at the end of his life. His widow left Taylor's stuff as it was, including a pair of Chucks he wore. Aamidor has those shoes now.

After living with Taylor for a few years in his mind, Aamidor doesn't feel he knows the man - who was more of a shoe salesman than a basketball hero - all that well. "Maybe I know him as much as an uncle who comes to visit once a year," he said.

And Aamidor still has mixed feelings about Taylor, the man. "He went on the road and joined the circus. Basketball was his circus. I like that about him. I admire his spunk," he said. "But he was a glad-hander, a salesman. He was a womanizer, a schmoozer. I don't like that."

In the end, Aamidor - who plans to work next on a coffee table book about Chucks - said it's the shoe that really makes Taylor worth remembering. "If the shoe didn't exist, this book wouldn't exist."