Phil-Facts: So Many “Oregon Unknowns” Surrounding Phil Knight…

OregonReigns Honoring Phil Knight 7 Comments

FishDuck has published a number of articles in the past detailing surprising facts that are “Oregon Unknowns” to most Duck fans. Oregon’s generous benefactors, Phil and Penny Knight, have a number of these in their own amazing history of building one of the most influential sports companies in history.

Phil Knight made his way from selling sports apparel out of his car trunk to making millions of dollars as the Chairman of the Board of Nike, Inc. The following “Unknowns” may help you understand why this unique man deserves his place in history, while lets you follow the recent sports news about the athletes who embrace the brand. This article offers some fascinating details of his biography — what I like to call “Phil-Facts.”

The Swoosh was Relatively Cheap

The author of one of the best-known logos in the world earned just 35 bucks for it. Just imagine: you’re a student and your teacher — Phil Knight — offers an opportunity to make some money with your graphic design skills? Nobody knew that his Blue Ribbon Sports was going to become a dominant force in the sports equipment market!

“Dimension 6” was Phil’s Preferred Option instead of “Nike”

Knight and Bill Bowerman, co-founders of Nike, had a couple of naming options for their “Blue Ribbon Sports” company in 1978. The final options were “Dimension 6”, proposed by Phil, and “Bengal.” It was Jeff Johnson, who was the first full-time Nike employee going back to 1965, who offered “Nike”, referring to the Greek goddess.


One of the most famous logos in the world…

He Chose the Name After the Logo

The logo was made for the visit of executives from their partners Onitsuka in 1971. Knight didn’t like it initially, but manufacturing deadlines made him settle on the logo, and later change the company name to “Nike” in 1978. The rest is history.

Signing the Biggest Athletes was the Next Step …

By 1981 Nike had become so big they controlled 50% of the sports shoe market. To continue growing, Knight decided to seal a contract with John McEnroe, a well-known bad boy American tennis player. He appeared in public only in one specific model of Nike sneakers, at a time when he had an injury. Yet the sales of these sneakers were unbelievable, so the company continued the new strategy and made deals with other legendary athletes, such as Charles Barkley, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan.

Ten years Later: Knight’s Ideas Expanded to Soccer and Hockey

Before the 1990s, Nike didn’t even have a business presence in sports such as golf, hockey and soccer, but progress in the other ventures helped launch the company into these completely new arenas. It was another group of surprising worldwide successes…

Melissa Macatee

Phil Knight had vision in marketing that few could rival…

Knight Intentionally Picked the Controversial Lane

To grab media attention Phil chose to partly pay for the legal bills of scandalous ice skater Tonya Harding. Charles Barkley was picked as a star player on a wave of fans criticizing him for his mischief. (He spit on one of the fans! A little girl!) The same passion was within Ilie Nastase, a tennis player from Romania, who also got a contract with Nike mostly because of the controversies surrounding him and his on-court antics. (Such as cursing in five different languages!)

Phil Knight Named to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame

For his exceptional contribution to Oregon sports, Knight was honored with being inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 2000. Just two years later, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame also honored him with induction to their HOF for his impact on moving that sport forward.

Knight did sell Shoes out of his Car Trunk

The first shoe sales were not made from some kind of plush retail store after a multi-million dollar brand deal. At that time it was not Nike, but just Blue Ribbon Sports, a young entrepreneur, his green Plymouth Valiant at some track meet and a dream. Some sports shoes were sold that first day from the car trunk, and it began one of the world’s greatest companies, changing the lives of millions of sports apparel fans forever.


The new Hayward Field will be stunning…thanks to Phil and Penny.

Knight is a Serious Philanthropist

In 2006 the Stanford Graduate School of Business received their biggest donation ever from Phil and Penny ($105 million). At that time it was the biggest ever to an American business school. The school changed its name to “The Knight Management Center” to recognize the impact of Phil’s generosity on future generations of students. In his home state the “OHSU Cancer Institute” received the biggest pledge in its history ($100 million) from Phil and Penny Knight as well. In gratitude to Phil and Penny for their help in saving lives, they renamed the facility to “OHSU Knight Cancer Institute” in 2008.

But over the last thirty years, the Nike co-founder has given most of his love to the University of Oregon and Our Beloved Ducks. His generosity has built a new law school building, made an enormous addition to the library, created a new school of science and built a new basketball arena. On the opening night of Matthew Knight Arena, (named after his deceased son) the billionaire gave an emotional speech where he thanked his family and explained that those closest to him and his alma mater in Eugene were what impacted and mattered the most to him.

Even bigger Oregon passions are being fulfilled: an upgraded Autzen Stadium, new coaching and player facilities and a full renovation to Hayward Field, funded by Phil, Penny and 50 other donors. The University of Oregon refuses to give details of all the different donations, but various outlets estimate all the pledges combined at approximately $1 billion.

So many Oregon Unknowns comprise the story of Phil Knight building Nike, and later illustrating the benevolence of Phil and Penny donating to so many institutions that impact and help multitudes of people in this state. Perhaps someday the athletes, cancer patients and business students who were impacted by Phil and Penny will share their own Oregon Unknowns, and add their stories to the Knight legacy?

Oregon Reigns
Lakeside, Oregon
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove

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I love the old “Bo Knows” commercial where Wayne Gretzky skates up and simply says, “… no…. “. Classic.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Great information, and it is fun to learn more about Phil’s journey and all that he has done for Our Beloved Ducks.


Great article on Phil. A couple of things I want to point out. Nike’s first sponsored athlete was Steve Prefontain. He wore the waffle iron soled Nikes at the World Track Championships in Helsinki, Finland and at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Bill Bowerman added the Nike swoosh for the Olympic games.


My office in the early 80’s was very close to the Nike office’s on Nimbus Ave in Beaverton. I would occasionally run into Nike employees at a nearby pub. I remember casually chatting with a couple of guys just after Michael Jordon had signed with Nike. (The same year that the Blazers picked Sam Bowie over Jordon…ughhh)

At that time, they were optimistic that Jordon would be a solid NBA player. Jordon’s abilities, coupled with Nike’s branding and innovation seems to have worked out pretty well. The Jordon Brand by itself is a major force in the shoe and apparel industry.

Phil Knight’s success has impacted so many people and entities. For those that are interested in what the path to business success can look like, I would highly recommend reading Phil Knight’s book “Shoe Dog, a memoir by the creator of Nike.”

Phil Knight is able to tell his story in a very entertaining way. His book is a reminder that the path to business success is certainly not without struggle and sacrifice.


I would add PK paid the designer of the Nike swoosh what was agreed at the time. The company wasn’t the behemoth it is now.

Later PK gave her stock, which would be worth $4 million if she had sat on it. PK is a very generous, grateful person. I don’t want anyone to

think PK isn’t an appreciative person, he has lifted up many.

I would also add he not only picked the controversial lane in supporting some contentious characters. He took a stand on some issues many

thought would hurt the brand. He did it to send a message to society about issues dear to him.


Thanks for the link! Good touching commercials!


Thanks for the informative article highlighting this amazing benefactor of our beloved university!

I remember buying my first pair of Tiger running shoes from the small
Blue Ribbon Sports store in downtown Eugene a long time ago! What a beginning!