Nike is the ultimate American dream. And it all started when a twenty-four year old Oregonian suddenly had this Crazy Idea of bringing Japanese running shoes, specifically the Onitsuka Tigers, into the country way back in 1962, just less than two decades after the United States of America bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
There had been some unauthorised biographies or stories about how Nike came to be, but this is the first time we are graced with the words from the creator himself, Philip H. Knight. Shoe Dog is a well-written, captivating and candid account of how Knight’s Crazy Idea came into fruition and eventually metamorphosized into probably the most recognizable name in the athletic shoe and apparel industry.
While not a business book per se, there are a lot of insights herein about entrepreneurship and challenges of running a successful business. The journey undertaken by Blue Ribbon Sports, the name of the company with which Knight started his distribution of the Onitsuka Tigers, was monumentally challenging in spite of encouraging sales and demand. What with the difficulties of dealing with the Japanese halfway across the world in a snail-mail era coupled with problematic and delayed shipments time and time again, and lousy conservative bankers who preferred equity (i.e. cash) over reinvested growth, Knight and his team of partners were constantly fighting a relentless uphill battle to stay afloat. Even when Nike as a brand was created, the challenges were far from over as manufacturing capacity and capital availability struggled to keep pace with the phenomenal growth.
And what a team he was able to garner, the foremost of them all being arguably the most renowned American running coach ever, Bill Bowerman. The story of Nike has strong parables to sports as its massive success was built on strong and loyal team work. A lot of the ideas that brought Nike to bear were not solely Knight’s. It was also almost paradoxical to learn that Knight was not convinced on the powers of advertising, what with Nike being so revolutionary in its advertising campaigns and ideas. What he did bring to the table was his sheer passion and stubbornness (as stopping means losing) and a bunch of people who were willing to dedicate all their money and efforts into where their heart lies. At its core, the firm was essentially founded and nurtured by running geeks who understood the spirit of the sport and embraced innovation.
Like books, sports give people a sense of having lived other lives, of taking part in other people’s victories. And defeats. When sports are at their best, the spirit of the fan merges with the spirit of the athlete, and in that convergence, in that transference, is the oneness that mystics talk about.
Another highly notable mention in this book is, of course, the legendary Steve Prefontaine, whose greatly inspiring yet tragic story still resonates within the hallowed grounds of Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon. Admiration bordering on worship for Pre, who was famously known for once saying “Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it”, provided further fuel for the inner fire within Knight’s competitive psyche. It was also enlightening to learn about the origins of the Nike Cortezes and finally understand its cult status amongst shoe addicts.
Admittedly, I have always been more of an Adidas fan. However, this frank, emotional and in-depth look into the history of Nike and people behind its success has significantly boosted my appreciation of the brand. Taglines like “Just Do It” and “There Is No Finish Line” are not merely marketing propaganda but the embodiment of the spirit of the brand and its founding fathers.
This is a real life story of passion, perseverance, belief, loyalty and teamwork with a lot of heart. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves biographies. More so for budding or even seasoned entrepreneurs, sneaker or athletic shoe fans, and especially for runners, athletes or just sports fans in general. And if you are a fan of Nike, what are you even waiting for?!