Phil Knight’s Lasting Legacy for Oregon

Steven Smith Editorials

Philip Knight has been an absolute godsend to the University of Oregon.

Through his efforts and those of other mega donors, we have become relevant on the nation’s athletic stage. We are now an established an recognized program. Final Four appearances in both Men’s and Women’s Basketball, a Golf National Championship, Men’s and Women’s National titles in track and field and two Natty appearances in football are all a result of his generosity.

Many an old graybeard on this site will remember the years of ineptitude, embarrassing defeats and national insignificance. Only track and field titles allowed us to hold our heads up high back in those days. My, how the athletic landscape has changed in Eugene!

Unfortunately, not one of us gets off earth alive — so, too, with “Uncle Phil.”  We all wish the Knights an even longer fruitful life than heretofore mentioned. However, when he does leave terra firma, here are just a few of his stellar contributions we’ll be able to be thankful for.

Phil’s Legacy

The Matt Knight arena is just one of Phil’s gifts to UO.

Knight Law Library:  The funding for UO’s main library was donated by Phil’s father, Jesse Knight, to the University of Oregon some years back.

Autzen Stadium: This rebuild/remodel increased the size and updated the structure into the modern coliseum it is, building on the initial 1967 structure. It’s now a venue where all of us love to cheer our Ducks on Saturdays in the fall.

Matt Knight Arena: To honor his son, who died in scuba diving accident, Phil Knight donated the money to build this great stadium.  This was a serious upgrade from the confines of the musty old Mac Court. Today, this is a first-class basketball and multipurpose facility. The rebuild increased fan capacity to over 12,300 in the process.

World Class Track and Field Stadium: This new facility is yet to be unveiled, but it will be state of the art and host the Olympic trials later this summer.

Marcus Mariota Sports Performance Center: Located on the ground floor of the Casanova Center, this combination of sports and science was made possible by a rumored $19-million-dollar gift from Knight. Here, student athletes can measure their development and readiness to play, which improves student-athlete safety.

UOHSU and Dornbecker Hospital: Phil Knight has made multiple donations to improve health research at this hospital in Portland.

Salary Enhancements: Behind the scenes, Knight has helped the UO Athletic Department move forward by donating money to pay for coaches’ contract buy-outs and making salary increases possible in order to keep coaches at UO.

Nike: The company has supplied Duck teams with cutting-edge and stylish uniforms, single-handedly defining Oregon’s brand. You can bet Phil furnishes this gear to students at the right price, too!

Author of  Shoe Dog: This is a fun read about Nike’s infancy and development. (Would “Dimension Six” really have cut it as brand name?)

Nike’s cutting-edge uniforms have helped define the Oregon brand

All in all, Knight’s generosity suggests he’s a genuinely good guy.

I have personally met the man on several occasions, too. Once, we met at the Redmond Cinema when he was with some of his grandkids and we were with ours. Another time, at Brasada during a golf outing. He had lost his putter’s head cover (a black/red small Nike kids shoe), and I returned it to him. His response: “Hey, thanks a lot for returning this. It no doubt would have been on eBay being sold for big bucks!”

“Uncle Phil” is a down-to-earth, grounded Oregon kid who made it really big!

One Last Gift?

He’s not done yet, though. His final gift is rumored to be the largest endowment ever to given to any university anywhere! Some have estimated the gift will exceed a BILLION.  Consider this: $1,000,000,000 invested at a 5% return annually is $50 million per year.  Will there be even more than these amounts to ponder? The amount potentially coming Oregon’s way is staggering.

To what extent will this largesse affect the U of O’s athletic budget in time of escalating costs, though? Will it have strictures placed on it that limit how it can be spent? That is certainly another article for another time.

Nike’s and Phil’s impact on philanthropy and planned giving boggles the mind. His approach is visionary, just like his approach to business.

What will Phil’s “final gift” be?

(Somehow we don’t think he will be donating his old car to PBS to receive a tax deduction this year!)

What if We Didn’t Have Him?

Of course, no talk of Nike’s and Phil’s giving is complete without delving into the controversy. Consider some years ago when this University and others were protesting Nike’s use of “sweatshop” labor. When asked, Knight bristled at the accusation that his employees were receiving anything other than fair treatment at quality workplaces. He even refused to donate to the University one year!

If he had kept up this grudge, it could have all turned out so differently. Insulting wealth may have been, and may still be, in vogue, but let’s be realistic. University athletic departments run on mega-donors. Ticket and concession sales don’t come close to cutting it if you want to be successful. This is not only true at Oregon, but every major program in the nation.

I understand where detractors are coming from, but not appreciating the man, the generosity and the direction he has given Oregon both academically and athletically with his steady stream of Benjamins is unthinkable.

So here’s to the man and the institution that is Phillip Hampson Knight! He will have a true lasting legacy to look back on for his years of giving. Thank you, Uncle Phil.

Steven Smith
Powell Butte, OR Top Photo by Irina Filenko


Andrew Mueller, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.


New 2024 FishDuck Publishing Schedule….

During the off-season the publishing schedule will consist of articles on Mondays and Tuesdays. Do keep checking as new articles could be published during the week when a writer has something to say.

In mid-August of 2024, we will go back to the seven-days-a-week of articles during the football season as we did in the football season of 2023.

The Our Beloved Ducks Forum (OBD) is where we we discuss the article above and many more topics, as it is so much easier in a message board format over there.  At the free OBD forum we will be posting Oregon Sports article links, the daily Press Releases from the Athletic Department and the news coming out every day.

Our 33 rules at the free OBD Forum can be summarized to this: 1) be polite and respectful, 2) do not tell anyone what to think, feel or write, and 3) no reference of any kind to politics. Easy-peasy!

OBD Forum members….we got your back.  No Trolls Allowed!