Oregon’s Uncle Phil
Everyone knows the name and the face, but few people know the man. Phillip Knight is the force that most view as being behind Oregon’s rise to national prominence. His countless efforts have put the isolated college town of Eugene, Oregon, on the map and has helped to bring in top recruits to play in a place not traditionally known as a college football powerhourse.
Knight’s name is plastered all over campus, and rightfully so. It’s a bit of a shock that most people on campus, especially the nescient freshman, know nothing of the man that has given so much to the university. Sure they know he’s the owner of Nike, but that is all they know about the idolized man. Philip Hampson Knight is so much more that; he’s a self-made millionaire, charitable philanthropist, and University of Oregon lover.
Phil Knight was born in Portland to William W. Knight and Lota Knight. William Knight was a successful lawyer turned newspaper publisher. He founded the Oregon Journal after retiring from law. Phil attended Cleveland High School and quickly got into the newspaper business, taking after his father. Phil and his father were known to clash, and Phil gained in the upper hand in one situation – when his father refused to give him a summer job at the Oregon Journal, Phil went to rival newspaper The Oregonian, seeking employment. He got the job and every day after school he would head over to the Oregonian and work the night shift. In the morning when his shift was completed, Phil would run the seven miles needed to get back home.
Knight continued his education at the University of Oregon in Eugene, where he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. He was a sports reporter and beat writer for the Oregon Daily Emerald and earned a business administration degree in 1959.
Knight is no new comer to Tracktown, USA. Knight ran impressively under legendary coach Bill Bowerman, with whom he founded Nike. Knight posted a personal best of 4:10 in the mile under Bowerman. Knight was a superb athlete, winning varsity letters for track in 1957, 1958, and 1959.
Bowrman and Knight went on to become the dynamic duo that began the shoe giant known as Nike. Both men had business endeavors and dreamed of changing the running world. They had both expressed extreme dissatisfaction with running shoes and wanted to improve on the design and bring forth a shoe that was both capable of being light and durable.
In 1964 Knight and Bowerman each invested $500 to start Blue Ribbon Sports, the predecessor to Nike. They found success with Nike’s first shoe; The Cortez, a revolutionary shoe that took control of the athletic scene in 1973. In 1979, Nike took charge of the U.S running shoe market, claiming nearly 50 percent of the market. Through the 1980s and 1990s, Nike’s advertisements and improvement in footwear helped make it the most popular retailer of athletic shoes worldwide. Most of the advertisements featured endorsements from superstar athletes Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Derek Jeter. Nike is now the world’s largest sports and fitness company. Nike innovations in shoe design include the waffle sole, air cushioning, and the newly developed flywire.
A proud booster of University of Oregon sports, Knight’s donations throughout the years have greatly aided improvements in the athletic facilities at the university, including the state of the art football facilities adjacent to Autzen Stadium. In 2000, the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame inducted Knight for his special contribution to sports in the state of Oregon. In 2012, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor for his role in Nike’s huge financial support for the sport and its players.
Phil Knight has appeared on numerous television shows, in tons of magazines and in various articles, but when the owner of Nike gets mentioned in a rap song it is mind captivating and exciting. G.O.O.D Music affiliate rapper (and producer for Kanye West) Travi$ Scott released a new single off his debut album Owl Pharaoh and he gives Knight a warm and welcome shoutout. Scott raps “Wake up in the morning, throwing on them Nikes / Running through that check, shout Phil Knight”.
Despite all the great Phil Knight has done, Oregon fans are a bit mystified by him. That’s probably due in no small part to the fact that while he’s Oregon most public booster, he’s intensely private about his personal affairs. Knight prefers to do the monumental work that he does for Oregon athletics behind the scenes, and keep himself out of the spotlight to the extent that he can.
Knight’s impact on the University of Oregon will never be forgotten. Oregon has even been dubbed Nike University thanks to his intense efforts and generous philanthropy. Knight has done so much for the University that it’s only right the Ducks bring to him the ultimate fruit of his endeavors. Nothing will make the man happier than Oregon football bringing home a national championship. Once that happens, Knight will be able to bask in the glory of all he has accomplished on behalf of althletics at the University of Oregon.