Phil Knight’s memoir of his life and of Nike (both one and the same) is a must-read for so many different types of people it’s almost hard to keep track. Sneaker heads…. Track fans… Hoops fans… Pretty much anyone who follows sports would have some interest on some level… But this book is so much more than that. It’s a must-read for entrepreneurs and managers, for businessmen and investors… For motivators and self-help gurus… For people who love strong storytelling and powerful writing… For people who believe in the American Dream… There are so many anecdotes and tales and moments that are all the more riveting along the way because you know that despite all of the obstacles, somehow this little idea Phil Knight started by selling shoes out of his car would somehow, some way, become Nike.
Even the story of how the name Nike came to be is improbable.
But most of all, Shoe Dog reaffirms the idea that hard work, when applied with purpose and vision and drive and a willingness to continue to take risks, learn from mistakes and shore up weaknesses, will lead to success. This book, above all else, is aspirational.
I would ruin the book for you if I posted all of my notes, so below are a few of my favorite passages. All copy in italics is from Phil Knight, obviously:
The art of competing, I’d learned from track, was the art of forgetting, and I now reminded myself of that fact. You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past. You must forget that internal voice screaming, begging, “Not one more step!” And when it’s not possible to forget it, you must negotiate with it. I thought over all the races in which my mind wanted one thing, and my body wanted another, those laps in which I’d tell my body, “yes, you raise some excellent points, but let’s keep going anyway…” … I could not bear the thought of losing.
There were many ways down Mount Fuji, according to my guidebook, but only one way up. Life lesson in that, I thought.
One lesson I took form all my home-schooling about heroes was that they didn’t say much. None was a blabber-mouth. None micromanaged… Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.
***This passage is incredible. I won’t go into details because they’re too good and too important, but the below is from a speech Knight gave at possibly the darkest hour in Nike’s history, when he was leveraged to the hilt and there was a real possibility the entire company would end the next day. No more paychecks. No more shoes. Done. Knight’s main supplier, Onitsuka, cut them off. They could not fill any shoe orders that they had already borrowed money for and spent.
It seemed like the end of times. Everyone in the room had already been worrying about how they were going to make the rent, pay the light bill. Now this
“We’ve come, folks, to a crossroads. Yesterday, our main supplier cut us off.”
I let that sink in. I watched everyone’s jaw drop. I cleared my throat.
“So… In other words… What I’m trying to say is… We’ve got them right where we want them.”
Everyone around the table lifted their eyes. They sat up straighter.
“This is – the moment,” I said. “This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. Our moment. No more selling someone else’s brand. No more working for someone else… If we’re going to succeed, or fail, we should do so on our own terms, with our own ideas – our own brand. Let’s look at this as our liberation. As our Independence Day… Yes, it’s going to be rough. I won’t lie to you. We’re definitely going to war, people. But we know the terrain. We know our way around. And that’s one reason I feel in my heart that this is a war we can win. And if we win it, when we win it, I see great things for us on the other side of victory. We are still alive, people. We are still. Alive.”
ON THE MAGIC OF SPORTS
Like books, sports give people a sense of having lived other lives, of taking part in other people’s victories. And defeats. When sports are at their best, the spirit of the fan merges with the spirit of the athlete, and in that convergence, in that transference, is the oneness that mystics talk about.
There are so many more but I don’t want to spoil it for you. Do yourself a favor. Get the book here.
Jon Finkel is the author of Forces of Character with 3x Super Bowl Champion and Fighter Pilot, Chad Hennings, Heart Over Height with 3x NBA Slam Dunk Champion Nate Robinson, as well as Jocks In Chief, The Dadvantage – Stay in Shape on No Sleep with No Time and No Equipment, and all twelve volumes in the Greatest Stars of the NBA book series for the National Basketball Association, which won several ALA Young Reader Awards.
As a feature writer, he has written for Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Muscle & Fitness, GQ, Details, The New York Times, AskMen.com, ComedyCentral.com, Yahoo! Sports’ ThePostGame.com and many more. His work received a notable mention in the 2015 Best American Sports Writing anthology. He has appeared on CBS: This Morning promoting his books.