Shoe Dog


Growing up in Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s, as a collective society we were in awe of Michael Jordan. Not only did we imagine ourselves draining the decisive jump shot to seal the title, we also had to use every product that he endorsed; Gatorade, Wheaties, Coca-Cola, and, of course, Nike Air Jordan shoes. Nike most likely would not be where it is today without the sponsorship of Jordan and subsequent Jordan Brands, so when I found out that the company's founder Phil Knight had written a

Growing up in Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s, as a collective society we were in awe of Michael Jordan. Not only did we imagine ourselves draining the decisive jump shot to seal the title, we also had to use every product that he endorsed; Gatorade, Wheaties, Coca-Cola, and, of course, Nike Air Jordan shoes. Nike most likely would not be where it is today without the sponsorship of Jordan and subsequent Jordan Brands, so when I found out that the company's founder Phil Knight had written a memoir, I had my curiosity whetted. In Shoe Dog, Knight takes his readers on a journey back to the birth of company that today is one of the world's most noticeable name brands. As a fan of Jordan and one who has used the term 'just do it' in reference to getting the job done, I knew that this was a memoir that I had to discover for myself.In 1962, Phil Knight had what he calls a 'crazy idea'. He was about to finish his MBA at Stanford, and, as part of an entrepreneurial class, pitched the idea of marketing Japanese running shoes to American markets. All but one of Knight's classmates fell asleep on the spot, yet, Knight was onto something big. The Japanese had already flooded the American market with cameras and other products to follow as the yen recovered, so why not shoes. He pitched the idea to his father, and with a loan of $50, he set off on an around the world trip of self-discovery. After a stop on the pristine beaches of Hawaii, it was on to Japan, where then twenty four year old Knight discussed his idea with multiple companies. Only one, Onitsuka Corporation based out of Kobe, liked the idea, and made Knight into their sole western distributor of Tiger running shoes.After completing his trips that included stops in Jordan and the Parthenon in Greece which paid homage to the goddess Nike Athena, Knight returned to his home outside of Portland, Oregon. Forming a partnership with legendary track coach Bill Bowerman, Knight was on his way to success. Forming an initial team of castoffs-- a paralyzed former track star and professionals who did not mesh with their chosen careers--, in 1964, Blue Ribbon Sports, Inc. was born. Despite Bowerman's expertise in designing shoes; however, Blue Ribbon, later to be reborn Nike, did not take off initially. The market for running shoes, especially for the casual weekend runner, was not as popular as it is now. Japanese importers presented many problems which later resulted in law suits. Yet, Knight and his team, which later included track star Steve Prefontaine and early endorsements from athletes like Ilia Nastase, trekked on, perfected their ideas, and eventually became the corporation that they are today. It was Prefontaine's endorsement that gave Nike credibility, and even after his tragic death, the majority of 1976 United States Olympic hopefuls competed in Nikes. The swoosh symbol was everywhere, the company had exposure to rival Adidas, and, after going public at the end of 1977, Nike was on its way up in the world.Because I am not savvy in navigating the business world, I found the sections about Blue Ribbon's fight with Onitsuka shoes to distribute running shoes and later their entanglement with U.S. Customs Service to be fascinating. Today, people have heard one side of the story, that Nike has taken over decrepit factories in third world countries to produce athletic shoes that their employees can not afford. Yet, Knight has delivered his side of the story, from his early struggles against the Japanese, to his quest to modernizing factories to comply with current business practices. He details the company's precarious situation in the 1960s and 1970s, even after they had reached over $100 million annual in sales. Due to the constant business struggle with the Japanese and their American rivals, one ruling in the other direction could have meant the end of Nike. Yet, Knight's quality group had luck on their side, and won every law suit and threat thrown in their direction. With the business struggles behind them, the sky was the limit for the corporation that had once been a 'crazy idea'.

Today Nike is situated on a sprawling campus in Beaverton, Oregon. The company took off after employing shoe guru Sonny Vaccaro in the late 1970s and signing Jordan out of college in 1983-84. Looking back, Knight wishes he could do it all over again with one caveat, to be a better father to his children. I would have enjoyed reading more about Knight's relationship with Jordan, but the world knows the gist of that story. Learning about how Nike got its start and how each day could have been the company's last during the entire decade of the 1970s was a fascinating read. Knight has said that business is 'war without bullets' and channeled generals such as Patton and MacArthur during the company's rise to greatness. Today the Nike swoosh symbol is emblematic as sports itself. Seeing how it came to be was a fascinating, fun, and informative 4 star read and highly recommended.

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