What if we told you that there was a time when Nike didn’t reign supreme in the American sneaker landscape? Given the Swoosh’s ubiquity in contemporary American culture—both in the the sneaker community and popular culture at large—it may be hard to believe. But, in the 1980s, it was neither Nike nor adidas that controlled the plurality of the American market. Rather, the sneaker world took cues from a sneaker company that few would—today—consider to be a “sneaker war” titan: Reebok. Over the years, Reebok’s history has been one of astronomical ascents and colossal collapses; the brand has been both the preeminent athletic footwear manufacturer and the perennial afterthought, often swinging from one end of the spectrum to the other in the span of a few years.

Reebok was founded in England, in 1958, by a pair of brothers, Joe and Jeff Foster, to carry on a family tradition of making athletic footwear. Their grandfather, Joseph William Foster, had launched an eponymous company, J.W. Foster, in 1895 and developed one of the very first track spikes.

After initially struggling to copyright the name “Mercury”, the brothers turned to the Grey Rhebok, a species of African Antelope, which inspired the brand name. Reebok continued to produce running spikes throughout the ’60s and ’70s, with the company’s base remaining in England. In 1979, Reebok was exhibiting at the Chicago International Sneaker Trade Show, when Paul Fireman, an American outdoors gear wholesaler, discovered the brand; Fireman acquired the exclusive rights to Reebok in North America.

Initially, Fireman’s investment seemed like a modest success, with Reebok selling for roughly $1.5 million in 1981. By the end of the decade, it would become an investment that would reap legendary rewards.

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