Yesterday, a letter from Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, appeared. Nike employees saw it first, and then, it began appearing in the digital universe. Nike turned 50 on May 1, 2022.
So, Nike, the sports marketing colossus, turned fifty on May 1, 2022.
- Nike was born from Blue Ribbon Sports and the termination of the agreement between Onitsuka Tiger and BRS Sports over business disagreements. Two very stubborn men, Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight would not let their dreams perish. Nike barely made it through that time, and without the help of Nishi Bank, and thirty stalwart employees, it never would have. Nothing is preordained. I flew with the lawyer of Phil Knight, not knowing who he was (about twenty years ago). Over a few beverages, he shared with me some of the early day stories, and it was very difficult in those early days. Many seem to forget that. There were times when payroll was tough to meet. But it was. And so it goes (as Kurt Vonnegut would say).
- Bill Rodgers won his first Boston Marathon in a pair of Nike Bostons, which were sent to him, with a handwritten note from one Steve Prefontaine. Six weeks later, Steve Prefontaine, an American record holder from 2000m to 10,000m was dead. Steve was working for Geoff Hollister at the time. Geoff invented sports marketing at Nike. Geoff Hollister, Tom Sturak, and Nelson Farris were the true icons of Nike sports marketing. (First Olympic gold medal for Nike in track? Steve Ovett, 1980 Moscow 800m, with Seb Coe, silver).
- Nike did not invent sports marketing. adidas did. Actually, Horst Dassler did. Dassler was an insomniac who knew how to wheel and deal. His peeps work at every brand around the globe, and while Dassler died in 1986, his spirit can still be found in sports marketing. Nike ate it up, spat it out, and developed an in-your-face, must have the mentality that consumers embraced, correct, had to have.
- Jeff Johnson came up with the Nike name in a dream. Jeff was and is a track geek, and one of the most underrated coaches in American track & field. His intuitive style in coaching ( I have one of his training manuals for Guisto and the like) is what the art of coaching is all about. Jeff is also a fine photographer. Seeing him at Stanford golf course now almost 30 years ago is some of my finest memories. People made Nike, and Phil Knight knows that and noted that in his letter.
- The spirit of Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight will always be at Nike. It is how Nike employees interpret that spirit in the future that will determine where Nike goes in the next fifty years.