Will the Real Stan Smith Please Stand Up?

John Lennon wore them. Jay-Z rapped about them. Naomi Campbell posed nude in them. Forty years after Adidas introduced Stan Smith sneakers, the simple white-and-green design has not only become a cultural icon, but also has overshadowed the man himself.

Perhaps seeking to reclaim his name, Mr. Smith, a tennis player formerly ranked No. 1 in the world, has a new coffee table book, “Stan Smith: Some People Think I’m a Shoe,” with a foreword by Pharrell Williams and portraits by Juergen Teller.

We caught up with Mr. Smith, who is 71 and lives in Hilton Head, S.C., to talk about tennis, his sneaker collection and fame.

When you Google “Stan Smith,” the Adidas sneaker website comes up before your Wikipedia page. How does that make you feel?

It’s really the purpose of the book, in a way: to show how the shoe has grabbed people from all sorts of different backgrounds and cultures and interests and dress and countries. It’s really interesting to see that the shoe has made a big impact.

The book cover for “Some People Think I’m a Shoe,” by Stan Smith. Credit…-

Are you surprised that your legacy is as much about fashion as tennis?

If you had asked me back when I was 20 years old, that would have been a little bit of a joke, I think. Even being a great player at that time would have been a joke as well. But my career has been good. It’s not a Roger Federer or a Rafael Nadal career, but I was No. 1 in the world at one time, so that’s what I always thought my legacy would be: being a decent tennis player.

In the book’s introduction, Pharrell refers to the shoe as a “common denominator.” Why do you think that is?

I think it’s because it’s very simple, and I’m a fairly simple guy myself. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but it’s clean. You’ve got preppies in Connecticut that are wearing it, and you’ve got the hip-hop music people in the city. You normally wouldn’t see that.

The other thing that’s very funny is that you would never see a 13-year-old girl wearing something that her mother is wearing. Not only the mother, but the father, the grandfather, the babies.

Do you consider yourself a fashion person?

To be quite honest, I would say I wouldn’t consider myself a fashion person. I think I’ve become more aware of fashion, but that was certainly not something I set out to be when I was a young guy.

The Stan Smith sneaker was introduced by Adidas in 1978. The simple white-and-green design is a fashion staple. Credit…Via Stan Smith Archive

How many Stan Smiths do you own?

Upward of around 60-ish. I wish I’d kept the ones early on that I wore in 1972. I never really thought the shoe would be around for another 46 years.

Whose feet were you most excited to see your shoes on?

Raf Simons, of course, was one of the collaborators. He said, at one time, he wore the shoes every day for 10 years. Usher once said that he got my shoes in every color. You see Harrison Ford, you’ve seen John Lennon. Even now, we have the president’s wife wearing the shoes. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

At the end of the book, there’s a portrait series by Juergen Teller. What was that like?

He’s a piece of work! Very controversial. I did some investigations, and people kept telling me, “Well, just make sure you keep your clothes on!” He was great. He had a beautiful studio that he had just created right in the middle of a neighborhood that fulfilled all of his needs. That was a fun day. He’s a very creative guy, obviously, and great to work with.

Mr. Smith, photographed last month in Midtown Manhattan.Credit…Shaniqwa Jarvis for The New York Times

In his introductory essay, Gary Aspden, a creative consultant for Adidas, writes: “When Raf Simons collaborated with Adidas on the Stan Smith it appears that he understood that good design isn’t necessarily about what is added, but is often about what isn’t added.” Let’s get meta here: Can that same philosophy be applied to tennis?

I look at the greatest player maybe ever to play, and that’s Roger Federer. He makes the game look easy. He’s very efficient, very smooth. If you put music to Roger, you’d have a bit of ballet. He keeps it simple, there’s not a lot of extra movement. You kind of can relate that to the shoe idea: It’s very simple, it’s economic, it’s not flashy.

Has that philosophy informed your own life?

It really has. I’ve got four wonderful children, a great wife. I’ve tried to really live by the basics of my faith, and teach my basics to my kids. And now we have 13 grandkids. To really understand the fundamentals of life, and how to treat people and how to act: It’s all very basic stuff that’s important to me and that’s been important to my family.

How have your children and grandchildren handled your sneaker fame?

When my daughter was 14, she came home from school and said, “Dad, you’re famous!” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Jay-Z has you in one of his songs!” I said, “Well, that’s great. Who’s Jay-Z?”

This interview has been edited and condensed.