"Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike", by Phil Knight, The RunBlogRun Review


phil-knight-memoir-shoe-dog, from scribner.jpgShoe Dog cover courtesy of Scribner

This review was done by Jeff Benjamin, on the day that the book was released! Jeff Benjamin recommends that all running fans, Nike fans and shoe geeks pick up the new book by Phil Knight. Here's why!

To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, Phil Knight most definitely did it "His Way". His life story, usually beings with his running roots at the University of Oregon, under Bill Bowerman. Then, his life story moves to his creation of Blue Ribbon Sports, which transformed gigantically into Nike. This story has been told, by others, along with a certain amount of epiphany-style anecdotes for years now.

Perhaps the closest running-related early Nike formation story was written by Kenny Moore, in his wonderful book, "Bowerman and the Men of Oregon". Yet through the years, trying to get it from the Man himself just wasn't happening, and what anyone did get was just tidbits and some brief flashbacks.

Until now.

In what can be best described as a final, "let's get it right" chronicle, the creator and 50 year CEO of the company (Knight recently stepped down, turning the full reigns of Nike over to Mark Parker) has finally completed his "Bucket List" goal of writing about his life and the early years of the company. This is the company, which he created and led, which began in his garage and whose effects have now transformed the world, both in and out of the athletic arena. This company is Nike.

In "Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike", Knight finally and at long last gives readers his interpretation of the many events which led to the rise. He describes, warts and all, his early life growing up in a middle-class family with all the normal family dynamics. At Oregon, he is coached by Bowerman, who Knight realized both challenged and experimented on him, and would go on to become a pretty darn good runner himself.

A true anti-rebel through the 1960's, Knight, upon graduation, was one of many aimless graduates during this period, as he was trying to make sense of what his place would be in the world. Traveling worldwide definitely broadened his horizons. Finally, he would go on to create Blue Ribbon Sports, started with the help from his family and friends, many without the mega money needed to support his dream but so loyal that one person told him, "Buck, I'm with you to the end." It's upon that foundation that Knight and his crew began.

With the rise of the company, came his relationship with Onitsuka Tiger Shoes, where Knight and his crew served as their Japanese distributor in the U.S. But Knight, Bowerman, Jeff Johnson, and his wife Penny, among others, wanted more. It was then that the Nike (not thankfully, "Falcon" or "Sixth Dimension", which was Knights' original proposed name!) concept began. Knight does a great job in the book in showing that there were no immediate gratification moments in these formative years, but rather the philosophy that "it'll grow on you", which it certainly did.

But Knight's greatest passion is without a doubt the sport of running. From his own running (Knight's story is replete with constant 6-mile runs, even during times of great duress, both business and personal) to his admiration of the Sport's legends, Knight, like most runners, feels a kinship with these athletes. The greatest of all in his (and many) eyes was Steve Prefontaine. Knight writes about Pre's significance, not in a monotone, factual style, but just like every other Oregonian in the stands of Hayward Field who was screaming "Pre!" during those truly giddy days.

Knight even writes about Pre, the Nike employee, and his awe of him, as if he was one of those star-struck fans who worshipped him, and Knight, one of the most powerful men in Sports today, shows he's never forgotten those passions. One interesting anecdote is Knight and Nike's high hopes for 1972 Marathon Gold Medalist Frank Shorter, especially after Pre's death in 1975. But, at the starting line of the 1976 Montreal Olympic Marathon, their dreams are quashed when Knight and Johnson see on television that Shorter's ascent with the Swoosh was just not going to happen. (Editor's note: Shorter, at the last minute, changed from the special makes of Nike back to his Onitsuka Tiger shoes).

There sure are a lot of other great things in this book, but this writer is doing the review here and not the whole book. What impressed this writer the most was that Knight has not forgotten the past. For Knight to go back to the grass roots beginnings and unashamedly emphasize the company's roots in running will probably open quite a few mainstream, non-running eyes, particularly among the younger generation, who only look upon the iconic Swoosh as a symbol of Jordan, Kobe, Lebron, Air Max and now, fashion.

But it also shows that Knight, an icon himself, has also never forgotten his roots as well, nor has he forgotten those who made the company rise with him through those early and trusting years.

It's just a shame that track fans can't just get together with Phil Knight at a meet or at a postrace bar. One would think that, after reading "Shoe Dog", that the man who has everything he wants (and worked for) would probably find those kinds of encounters just as enriching.

But given the circumstances, that's ok. Reading "Shoe Dog" is the next best thing!

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