Shoe Dog

Six Takeaways From Phil Knight’s Memoir

A Sneakertown book review. 

Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike and the richest person in Oregon, has just released his memoir, Shoe Dog (Scribner, 400 pages, $29)—which is coincidentally already the title of a kids’ book about a dog who likes shoes. The book is a first-person chronicle of Knight’s founding of Nike predecessor Blue Ribbon Sports in 1962, ending with Nike’s initial public offering in 1980, with some amazingly wild rich-guy prose and stories about, like, fire drills that involved jumping out of his bedroom window with a bedsheet while his mother timed him. Here are some of the other fun details that hide between the anecdotes of cutthroat international business and scrappy Oregonian entrepreneurialism, not to mention that old story about inventing the modern shoe sole with a waffle iron. 

Phil Knight really hates Adidas: Of the ’70s, Knight writes, “I was developing an unhealthy contempt for Adidas. Or maybe it was healthy. That one German company had dominated the shoe market for a couple of decades, and they possessed all the arrogance of unchallenged dominance. I despised them.” Needless to say, he later gloats.

Phil Knight loves Japan: His frequent business trips to Japan in the ’60s and ’70s endeared him to its people and culture, inspiring both enthusiastic prose—”I sat, contemplative, reverent, beneath swaying ginkgo trees, beside a beautiful torii gate”—and much, um, anachronistic reported dialogue such as, “Mr. Knight, we’ve been thinking long time about American market.” No, Uncle Phil! No!

Nike was almost named “Dimension Six”: The name “Nike” came to Jeff Johnson, Blue Ribbon Sports’ first full-time employee, in a dream. But it apparently took an enormous effort by everyone else to convince Knight that his own idea, “Dimension Six,” was “unspeakably bad.”

Nike employees used to cut loose at the Buttface: Nike held a regular work retreat outside of Bend called the Buttface—which Knight describes as “nothing but joy,” while freely admitting some serious drinking and partying. Rumors swirl that Oregon business culture in the ’70s was defined by a Wolf of Wall Street-level of debauchery.

Don’t talk sideways about Tiger Woods in front of Phil Knight: Tiger and Phil are friends. Knight was there “as Tiger drains the final putt at Augusta,” and was one of fewer than 100 people invited to Woods’ father’s funeral. Knight “will not stand for a bad word spoken about Tiger in [his] presence,” so you better not come at him with any nonsense.

Beaverton is a suburb north of Portland: Knight describes Beaverton as “a suburb north of Portland” and Tigard as “south of downtown Portland.” When you’re Phil Knight, Portland suburbs are wherever you say they are.


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