Georgetown Hoyas Center from 1982–86, Ralph Dalton recalls the Washington D.C. school’s NCAA dominance in the mid-80s and playing in the exclusive Nike Terminator basketball shoe.
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Hey Ralph, how are you? First, where did your interest in basketball begin?
I’m seven feet tall and it’s just kind of something that became an opportunity that could help me get out of the neighborhood, and honestly give me opportunities. So my first real interest was when I met [Coach] John Thompson years ago, and he was such an impressive person. He was seven feet tall like me and he was intelligent as hell. It gave me something to aspire to.
And what brought you to Georgetown? Was that always your school of choice, or how did you end up there?
John Thompson. I didn’t have a whole lot of mentors growing up. I was a momma’s boy and she was my mentor. And then I met this guy who looked like me, who was tall like me and provided an opportunity to me. And that in itself is what inspired me. And I didn’t know much about Georgetown when I met him, but he was the driving force.
Fast forward to when you were playing at Georgetown between ’82 and ’86, did you have any sense of brand preference? Obviously, you guys were wearing Nike, I know some other schools were wearing Reebok PUMPs. Were you happy to be playing in Nike? Did it mean anything to you?
I grew up in the streets of the DC and the PG County area, where things like that didn’t matter a whole lot to us. And to date myself, back then, Chuck Taylors were the thing. If you could afford to get those, you know, you were doing something. And then soon after, Nike came along and I learned about it more. Nike was better than some of the other shoes that were out there, quite honestly. So I was excited about the opportunity and excited about the product.
So you found the quality to be a bit better with Nike?
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, there were other shoes that I had to play in and certain tournaments that I was playing in. The equipment just wasn’t as good as Nike.
Today the Swoosh logo is a big status symbol. Did you ever have the feeling that wearing the Swoosh was something special?
To me, it wasn’t necessarily a status symbol. I think in that era it became a status symbol for a lot of the inner-city kids. The driving force behind it for me was the quality. I played in all shoes and I had to play in certain shoes. And sometimes I told them, look, I can’t play in [non-Nike] these because I know I could risk injuring myself.
Then in 1985, Georgetown got its own special shoe, different from other schools, the Terminator, What do you remember about that moment?
That was in the midst of Georgetown equipment being hot. And in that era, I mean, everybody was wearing it. It didn’t matter where you were in the country, it didn’t matter where you were in the world, it was the hot product. Everybody liked it, and everybody wanted it. You saw it everywhere. And then when the shoe came out, that was the hottest craze to follow everything else that was going on. And it became a really, really big deal. And that for a lot of the inner-city kids, it became a status symbol. And it was a very popular thing because, at that point, Georgetown was pretty hot.
So when you’re referring to Georgetown equipment, do you mean caps and sweaters and gear like that?
Yeah, a cap, sweater, jacket, shirt, anything they could get their hands on. It was the info thing to do back in those days. And at that point, that’s when we were at the peak of what we were doing in 1985. We just won the National Championship the year before. So Georgetown equipment was the hottest craze out there. And then the shoe came out. That was the cherry on top of the sundae.
Would you say Georgetown gear, like hats and sweaters, was more popular or more in demand than other schools at the time?
At the time, yeah.
The Hoyas text on the heel of the Terminator was a pretty special detail. Did you have any reaction seeing that for the first time?
I thought it was really cool.
The other schools, they were playing in Dunks. They didn’t have the school name written on the shoe.
It wasn’t a popular thing at the time. I think there were very few schools that had that, and it was a pretty hot thing and everybody wanted it.
I came across a photo of you wearing a super high-top version of the shoe. Can you tell me about that?
In the first game of my career, I destroyed my knee along with a bunch of ligaments as a result of the injury. I had what they call a drop foot. But I had to do a lot of things to compensate so that I could play. And Nike helped us design a shoe that had a bunch of contraptions in it and other things that would help compensate for the fact that I couldn’t lift my right foot, which was the result of the drop foot. And that helped me and allowed me to play from there. And from freshman year on I played in that shoe and it made a difference for me. It helped me greatly.
Was Nike willing to accommodate that request?
They were more than willing to. We had to go to their factory, I think it was in New Hampshire, where we sat with some of their engineers and we designed the shoe to help compensate for what I needed. And they put it together. It was never a doubt, it was never an issue. They were more than willing to help us in the process or whatever. And it’s something that made a difference for me in my playing career.
What did your teammates think about that shoe?
I’m not gonna necessarily say the teammates, but I think everybody reacted to it. Cause it was so different. It looked like a boxing shoe.
One thing that I’m really curious about is the access that you and your teammates had to Nike shoes. For example, if a Georgetown player wanted to have a new pair of shoes every game, would Nike provide them? Maybe not in the case of your special, ultra-high-top version, but could other guys go through as many shoes as they would in a season? Or did you have a certain amount of shoes for every season? Or how did that work?
They made sure I had more than enough whenever I needed it. They kept me in a decent supply so that there was never a point where I felt like I needed to request more shoes. They made sure there were enough of them available to me because it was so critical for my ability to play.
And for your teammates, did they just have a supply of sneakers on tap, so to speak?
Yeah. And again, those were for us to play in, those weren’t something we would get for wearing on the weekend. They made sure we had equipment to play in.
So Nike is bringing back the Terminator soon. As I mentioned, it has Nike on the back instead of Hoyas, but it’s a shoe that’s quite popular and collectible. And there’s a lot of people all over the world that want gonna want to buy this shoe when it comes out. What is your reaction when you hear that?
I’m not surprised at all. The Georgetowns, those shoes, those colors, and like you say, I’m surprised they’re only putting Nike on it. They’re not putting Hoyas on it again, but 30-some years ago, that was the hottest thing out there, and it’s still a very popular product. So no, it doesn’t surprise me at all. It doesn’t surprise me at all. If you put Hoyas on it I think it would be ridiculously popular.
I agree. It would be cool to see Hoyas on the shoe. Do you still have any of the shoes at home in storage or in your basement somewhere?
Yeah, I own almost everyone that was ever made class given to me or whatever, except for a very, very select few. And one pair is in the case at Georgetown, and they have those because John Thompson asked me. All of them were special because it was a very critical time in my life and a very significant time in my life. So they all mattered to me. And quite honestly, it’s hard to let them go.
Special thanks to Ralph Dalton, Diana Pulupa, and Georgetown Athletics.