Happy Birthday, Phil Knight! Here Are 5 Things You May Not Know About The Nike Icon

02.24.15 4 years ago 5 Comments
Phil Knight

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Considering the powerhouse Nike has become — its sales pushed $28 billion last year — it’s amazing to think the whole thing originated in the trunk of Phil Knight’s car. The future Nike founder and CEO famously hawked sneakers hand-altered by legendary Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman at track meets and such, and somehow, he spun that into one of the most enduring brands in history.

At a base level, Knight has obvious talents and vision that put him in an upper echelon as an executive. But it’s still instructive to take inventory of some of the things that went into building him into one of the most powerful men in sports. After all, to use the example of Nike’s most successful avatar, Michael Jordan wasn’t always Michael Jordan. Ostensibly, we all have to start somewhere.

“Sometimes I look out there, and I get goosebumps,” Knight once said about Nike’s expansive campus. “But you better not spend much time doing that because every six months is a new lifetime, and you’ve got to worry about what’s coming up to stay ahead of the curve.

“If you want to spend time saying this is cool, you’re going to get your ass kicked.”

Knight turned 77 today, appropriately sharing a date of birth with fellow master entrepreneur Steve Jobs (not to mention Floyd Mayweather; it was a good date for self-made tycoons). To commemorate Knight’s birthday, here are five things we love about Phil Knight that you may or may not know.

1. ParaNorman activity

If you never knew why Nike made sneakers to commemorate stop-motion animated films like ParaNorman and Boxtrolls, it’s because Phil Knight actually owns the company that makes those movies. After a brief attempt at becoming a rapper, Knight’s son Travis continued to eschew the family business, taking a position as an animator at a company named Vinton Studios.

When Vinton hit hard times after 9/11, Phil rescued it from bankruptcy, becoming the top shareholder and installing Travis as an executive. Now known as Laika, the company’s first big hit was the wonderfully creepy Coraline, for which Travis was the lead animator. If you want to celebrate the Nike founder’s link to stop-motion animation, all you need is a spare $3,700. By the way, the Roshe Trollstrikes, designed by Tinker Hatfield, raised money for a foster charity.

[Source: Fast Company]

2. Tiger style

I’m foremost a fan of Nike, but I’ve always found myself at least a little attracted to Onitsuka Tiger sneakers. The original sneakers sold by Phil Knight were Onitsuka samples purchased directly from a factory in Japan for a grand total of $50.

It would seem obvious that when it comes to running shoes, the lighter the better. Yet, pre-Nike sneakers tended to run bulkier. After writing a paper on the subject at Stanford Business School in the 1960s, Knight became fascinated with the lighter sneakers that were prevalent in Japan. On a post-grad trip to the Far East, Knight made up a company on the fly — Blue Ribbon Sports, he called it — and purchased some fateful samples that were mailed to him a year later. Bowerman made manual adjustments to the sneakers, and Knight would sell them out of his trunk at track meets.

When Onitsuka wanted a piece of the running boom and began a protracted legal battle, Knight and Co. made a clean break, found their own manufacturers and came up with the name Nike. Bowerman invented the game-changing rubber sole, and the rest is history.

“In those days, I wasn’t thinking about markets or fortunes,” Bowerman said in 1981. “I was making better shoes a foot at a time. I left everything else up to Phil Knight, and believe me, he’s a genius.”

Would Nike have become its own entity if Onitsuka hadn’t pulled a power play? Intuition says that Knight would have reached that conclusion on his own. But if you’re interested in visiting an alternate reality, Tigers are still available to purchase, or you can channel Forrest Gump and Kendrick Lamar by picking up a Nike Cortez, which Knight helped develop for Onitsuka.

[Source: Inc. Magazine]

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