Adidas Rod Lavers

by Frederick Egan Castleberry

“I like to let my racket do the talking.”
Rod Laver

When it comes to sneakers, I like to let them do the talking too. And by them I mean my Adidas Rod Lavers. There’s this inherent offbeat disposition to Rod Lavers—they’re cool…because they’re not. Lavers are unapologetically an athletic tennis shoe—shunning simple clean lines for functionality and performance (albeit 1970s performance). The fairway green sole and heel patch, white perforated mesh upper, and suede toe guard signal more social outsider than fashion insider. They borderline on “dad sneaker” (given their chunky profile and economical $65 price tag). To wear them is to do so deliberately. To wear them is to whisper, “When I’ve got you down, I’ll rub you out”—yet in an air of politeness.

It was Wes Anderson’s 1998 film Rushmore in which I slowly fell in like with the sneaker. Max Fischer, an eccentrically ambitious 15-year-old on scholarship at Rushmore Academy, spends the entire film in an unkempt pair with burgundy shoe laces. Worn with a navy Rushmore blazer and dumpy khakis, his “uniform” signified a young man navigating the grey area between boyhood and manhood. Fischer’s Lavers provided deeper insight into why he might vengefully cut (and know how to cut before even possessing a driver license) the brakes on Mr. Blume’s Rolls Royce. There was a mannered cutthroat spirit to them that deeply resonated with me.

My Adidas Rod Lavers, one year old.

Rodney George Laver is widely considered to be the best tennis player of all time. The Australian turned pro in 1962, following the first of his Grand Slam titles. Laver racked up so many titles during his career that listing them all would take longer than a John McEnroe dispute. But you could forget about all but one of Laver’s feats and he’d still be the greatest of all time simply because he’s the only player to win the singles’ calendar Grand Slam…twice.

Despite their namesake’s dominance on the tennis court in the 1960s, Lavers enjoy little name recognition comparitavely. Their subtle orthopedic demeanor seems to keep them under the pop culture radar while still maintaining a fervent cult following. Introduced in 1970, the Adidas Rod Laver arrived on the back of the Rocket from Rockhampton’s second Grand Slam. Laver, I should note, did play a hand in its development, wearing prototypes during his triumphant run through 1969. The result is a true cult classic that speaks softly and carries a big stick racket.