Just after the meeting with Phil Knight, Jeff Benjamin called his editor, so excited that he had met Phil Knight. Mr. Knight was with former CEO Mark Parker at the new Hayward Field, and our senior writer for the East Coast and Mayor of Staten Island running was able to meet one of his all-time favorites. Mr. Knight seemed to get a kick out of it, probably enjoying that real track geeks still exist, and they were in the House that Phil Built.
Phil Knight took running, a small, genteel sport, and gave it attitude and global presence. He took the idea of sports marketing, championed by the late Horst Dassler of adidas, and reinvented it. NIKE was developed by a guy who once said, ” I hate advertising,” then sponsored some of the most iconic ad campaigns in sports history. NIKE empowered their teams to make shoes that were not good but great and challenged the status quo. People like Jeff Johnson, Tom Sturak, Geoff Hollister, and many, many others built the land of the SWOOSH.
The influence of Mr. Knight on modern sports culture can not be overstated.
Eugene 2022 World Championships Memories, #2 In A Series Of Personal Recollections: A Litte more than Four minutes with Phil Knight
By Jeff Benjamin
It sure was fast!
On the 2nd day of the Worlds, who should I come up upon but one of the men most responsible for the direction of our Sport & other Sports for close to five decades?
The “Shoe Dog” himself – Phil Knight!
Still looking quite fit at 84 years young, the 5-foot-nine-inch enthusiastic Knight looked like he can still go out for a solid run. However, in the brief informal encounter with the NIKE Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus and with my mind bandying about, that topic did not come up.
Amongst our condensed conversation was talk about his autobiography “Shoe Dog” as well as my family’s 2015 visit to “Knight’s Realm of the Swoosh!” which elicited a small chuckle!
The one thing emphasized to Knight was the idea of how cool it would be to just talk about our Sport, which Knight still loves and follows with a passion.
After a quick pic, the encounter was over.
It was then I realized that perhaps the meeting lasted 4 minutes, which is around Knight’s PR for the Mile he ran under Coach Bill Bowerman and perhaps on this fabled Hayward track which he contributed so much to modernizing!
Later that evening, as we were all commiserating at the Wild Duck, it was realized that while NIKE has been at the forefront of the “Sneaker Wars” since coming along in 1972, one person remarked that those other companies may not be here were it not for Knight, to which I agreed.
The rise of NIKE fifty years ago, created upon a handshake between Knight and Bowerman amidst selling shoes out of garages and cars for most of the 1970s until its meteoric rise to dominance beginning in the 1980s, put their rivals on notice that they weren’t the only game in town here in America.
Knight’s NIKE empire, which consists of thousands of workers in all kinds of departments, no doubt challenged the status quo. At the time of Blue Ribbon Sports, the immediate predecessor of NIKE, brands like adidas, Onitsuka Tiger (now ASICS), and PUMA ruled the running world. Brooks, New Balance, and Saucony were around, but the running business was quite small.
NIKE knocked the business of running on its ears. Fun advertising, athletes with real personalities, highly visible sponsorships, and highly visible running shoes were all influenced by NIKE. Other brands had to react, and they did.
adidas, the 3-stripe company, has its American headquarters a mere 12 miles, across the Willamette River, from NIKE’s One Bowerman Drive Campus. At one time, adidas was in some of the original buildings of the old Nike campus.
Coincidence? I think not!
These companies compete; companies such as adidas and Brooks give no quarter to NIKE, and vice versa. The successful brands have found niches or areas to compete in, and some compete all out against the Beaverton-based behemoth of sports footwear. No quarter given, none asked.
The running business is now a truly global affair, and over 47 brands worldwide make running shoes, trail shoes, and track spikes (some). The running footwear business is over $25 billion a year in the U.S. alone! Phil Knight has influenced much of that business.
All because the “Shoe Dog” – a 4:13 miler (well, 4:10.99-4:13.00) – wanted to work with his Coach to make a better brand of Track/Running shoes!
A truly remarkable American story!
Thanks, Mr. Knight!
Jeff Benjamin’s 2 previous NIKE articles include:
Phil Knight’s realm of the Swoosh, by Jeff Benjamin
Shoe Dog, A Memoir, by the creator of Nike, Phil Knight, review by Jeff Benjamin for RunBlogRun