Oregon’s Dominating Folk Hero
When I was growing up in Oregon, I didn’t hear fairytales about knights and dragons. The bedtime stories my dad would tell me were about Phil Knight and his scrappy band of rebel athletes. About how Phil turned his love of sport and insane competitiveness into a powerful business just down the road in Beaverton.
You see, growing up in Oregon, you have this weird chip on your shoulder that no one is paying attention to you. You’re on the same coast as Hollywood, but far from the red carpets and spotlights. We always championed Phil Knight because he put us on the map. Heck, these days I see people walking around Tokyo wearing Beaverton, Oregon Nike shirts on a regular basis.
Phil made Oregon matter. Our guts twisted and turned when we heard rumors of the Swoosh moving operations elsewhere. But thankfully, Uncle Phil kept the Swoosh firmly on Oregon soil, by building a brand unlike any we had seen previously. Phil made Oregon a desirable destination for the brightest minds in business. And throughout Nike’s rise, Phil remained an Oregonian. The way he talked, his sense of humor and the way he reluctantly granted interviews. You felt the Oregon DNA in all of it. He was one of us. The brightest, smartest and winningest of us all.
When I was 13, my dad helped me buy a couple shares of Nike stock, just so that I could be eligible to attend the annual Nike shareholder meeting at the Oregon Convention Center. I wanted to hear directly from Phil and the others about what Nike was all about. And as it turned out, John McEnroe and Charles Barkley also ended up talking to the room of shareholders.
When Phil Knight took the podium, I remember thinking he sounded like a coach. I loved that. His demeanor was calm, but fierce. My 13-year old mind didn’t have much of an image of what a businessman should be like, but if Phil Knight was a businessman, then that was cool by me.
Phil talked about the early days of Nike and his friendship with Michael Jordan. He talked about how everything they made came out of talks with their top athletes. He also talked about what kind of athletes Nike supported. That they wouldn’t sign just anyone. That their story was important. And that they needed to have a certain attitude. He said they were going after rebels who proved they could win. Looking at Barkley and McEnroe sitting beside him on the stage provided just the right visual to back that up.
I was already a Nike fan, but hearing how Phil talked about his company in person, was my real Kool-aid moment. Over the years I’ve stayed connected to Nike. My high school basketball coach worked at Nike and hooked our team up with some sweet custom Huaraches. I was invited out to the Nike campus to try out the first line of Nike Baseball equipment. Then one day I found myself working at Nike’s ad agency, driving over to the campus in Beaverton pretty much every day to talk about baseball or basketball or running ideas. Everything I’ve worked on for Nike I’ve always kept Phil’s spirit in mind from those annual meetings back in the day. Honor the competitive spirit and celebrate the uniqueness of marquee athletes.
I’m proud of the company that Phil Knight has born and raised in Oregon. And I get a big thrill in being able to play a small role in furthering the vision of the thing he started.
Thank you Phil, for making Oregon matter.