Few would have guessed that a hard working business graduate and his track coach would start a company with $1000 back in 1972 that would become one of the largest and most recognized brands in the world today. Today, Phil Knight’s creation, Nike, is now worth over $36 billion - a stark contrast to a running shoe company selling its shoes from the back of Knight’s car at track races.
Knight has recently shared his stories in his book, “Shoe Dog.” He describes this journey as a project: always wanting to grow, always looking for a new way of doing things. The project started when Knight had written his business Masters thesis on an idea to import running shoes from Japan and take on the German shoe giants of the time, Adidas and Puma. This strategy, combined with a huge investment into research and development of running shoes, saw the birth of Nike.
For seven years I worked for Nike and met many people in the company. Two things struck me about my time with this “Nike project.” Firstly, Knight always talked about Nike’s self-identity was not about selling shoes but sharing emotions. Nike did not want to just sell a product but they wanted to associate that product with the emotions we want from it: victory, health and fitness. Examine for yourself the advertising of Nike products. They are linked with emotions to create that connection between victory and that shoe. In fact, Nike, is a Greek word meaning victory!
Jesus winning nike
The word Nike is not unfamiliar to Christians. It is actually used in the original Greek text of the Bible. For example, in 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 it talks about Jesus winning “victory” (the Greek word is “nike”) over sin and death. Similar to Nike, Christians do not just see a cross but this object symbolises an emotion that Jesus has conquered death and we live in the shadow of that great victory.
Secondly, Nike was not just about products but people. The company was birthed through the passion of its founders, Phil Knight and his track coach Bill Bowerman. It became famous through its association with champions, such as Michael Jordan. Many of these athletes became friends of Knight and shaped both him and Nike. One of the greatest influences on Phil Knight’s life was his son Matthew. In 2004 Matthew, aged 34 years, travelled to El Salvador to work for Christian charity. Tragically, Matthew died of a heart attack during this trip and Phil Knight had to go to El Salvador to bring his son’s body back to the U.S. Several months later Knight resigned as CEO of Nike. It was people that so greatly shaped Nike and Knight’s life and I often prayed for the influence of Matthew on his father.
Shoe Dog is a book about Knight’s projects. It gives insight into the man and the company. However, as you peel back the layers you can see God working in the lives of many in Nike. It is more than just physical victories on the track. On many pages of this project you can find Christians speaking into this story. I met many followers of Jesus there and heard many stories of faith, such as Matthew Knight’s. These drove me to a richer walk with God and led me to pray for others, such as Phil. It was stories, such as these, that show another side of a gracious God who uses every means to share His message of victory. He is true of God of victory.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and Pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover1.html