The Sneaker Gods; 50 Facts About Nike and the Immortal Swoosh. (Part 1 of 2)

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1. Nike, Inc. sits atop the mountain as the most successful athletic, sneaker and fashion brand ever. In fact, Forbes Magazine lists Nike as the #18 most valuable brand in the world. With 56,000 employees worldwide and annual sales topping $30 billion, Nike, simply NKE on the New York Stock Exchange, is considered one of the top companies of all time. But it wasn’t always that way…

2. The company that was to become Nike was conceived on January 25th, 1964, when Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman founded Blue Ribbon Sports.

3. Phil Knight first thought about starting a sneaker company while writing a college paper. He believed that sneakers made in Japan could compete with the popular German brands like Adidas and Puma.

4. If that was the inspiration, then Knight’s motivation came during a more auspicious incident. Before he ever founded a sports footwear company, Knight went for a job interview with some other company. But when Knight reached for his handkerchief, he actually pulled a sock out of his pocket. He was thoroughly embarrassed and didn’t get the job, which led him to think about rejecting a traditional job and starting his own company instead.

5. Once Blue Ribbon Sports was founded, it acted as a distributor for Onitsuka Tiger, a Japanese footwear company that would become Asics, for about 8 years, executing the theory of Knight’s paper that Japanese brands could compete.

6. Bowerman and Knight knew each other from the University of Oregon, where the former coached track and the latter was a middle-distance runner.

7. Blue Ribbon Sport’s first employee was a man named Jeff Johnson, a former running rival of Knight, who came aboard the company in 1965 and sold shoes from the back of his van at track meets. Later, the first BRS store was opened at 3107 Pico Blvd, in Santa Monica California.

8. In 1971, Knight and Bowerman, with Johnson still as their employee, changed the name of the company to Nike, and shifted its focus to manufacturing their own athletic sneakers. At that time it’s reported that the company only had $1,200 in the bank. Phil Knight actually wanted to name the sneaker line “Dimension 6” instead of Nike! No matter how revolutionary their sneakers were, success would have been fleeting with that name.

9. It was Jeff Johnson who came up with the concept and name Nike, which was inspired from the Greek goddess of victory.

10. The now ubiquitous Nike swoosh logo was originally conceived by a Portland State University student named Carolyn Davidson, who designed the Swoosh for a mere $35!

11. However, in 1983, Davidson was invited to a luncheon honoring her, where Phil Knight presented her with a diamond ring embedded with the Swoosh logo, a certificate of appreciation confirming her as the originator, and most importantly, options for Nike stock that were worth $640,000 at the time – and are probably worth hundreds of millions these days.

12. But the first shoe to adorn a Nike logo wasn’t a sneaker at all, but a soccer cleat. Only later did Nike start focusing on running sneakers.

13. If you have a pair of Nikes in the house (chances are almost 100% you do) then pick them up and look at the bottom. In fact, that tread you’re looking at was first made inside a waffle iron! Founder Bill Bowerman was making waffles with his wife one morning in 1971 when he got the idea for an athletic shoe sole that had square grids for better traction. By 1974, the “Nike Waffle Trainer” was patented and on shelves. And no, they didn’t keep making them with Bowerman’s waffle iron.

14. One of Nike’s first signature sneakers was the Cortez in the late 1970s/early 1980s. But they were far from unique. If someone at the time picked up the Onitsuka Tiger Corsair and Nike Cortez and held them side by side, they’d notice the obvious inspiration derived from Knight’s old parent company.

15. Long before Nike was a household name or mega popular with athletes, tennis player IIlie Nastase was the first professional athlete to endorse Nike, signing a contract in 1972. The original tennis bad boy, the Romanian Illie “Nasty” won two Grand Slam singles titles but was hardly what we’d consider a good role model and company ambassador, as he cursed out match officials, antagonized his opponents, threw tantrums, and partied, drank, and womanized.

16. Nastase may have been the first officially recognized Nike spokesperson, but the heart of the company still belongs to Steve “Pre” Prefontaine, a running legend at the University of Oregon before his tragic demise in a car accident in 1975 at the age of 24. Phil Knight still refers to Steve Prefontaine as the “Soul of Nike” and there was a whole line of clothing dedicated to the man.

17. The world-famous “Just Do It” slogan and campaign was actually inspired by the words of a serial killer! In 1977, Gary Gilmore was sitting on death row, scheduled for execution by firing squad. Reportedly, moments before he was put to death, Gilmore stated, “Let’s do it,” his last words.

18.  The slogan spread, becoming the base for Nike’s “Just do it,” campaign launched in 1988. The first “Just do it” ad featured then 80-year old running icon Walt Stack, jogging across the Golden Gate Bridge. The ad campaign and Nike slogan became so famous that it’s now enshrined at the Smithsonian National Museum.

19. Despite its early popularity and success, the Nike brand started to slip by the mid 1980s. Sales slipped and profits stagnated as other brands caught up, exposing Nike as a great concept that suffered from being a shoe only for runners, and without an iconic athlete as their spokesperson.


20. All that turned around virtually overnight when Nike took a chance on a gangly , unproven rookie out of North Carolina who was playing for the Chicago Bulls, high flying his way through the league.

His name was Michael Jordan…

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