Shoe Dog recounts the early years of Nike. How Phil Knight managed to, on the back of his wit and guile, secure a partnership with Onitsuka and kickstart an entrepreneurial streak that would eventually culminate into the premier name in global sports.
Minor spoilers contained below.
What I expected this book not to be was funny, sweet, and passionate. It manages to lure you in and grab you until the very end. From his stoic relationships with Bowerman and his father to the camaraderie among the Buttfaces, Knight leaves no stone un-turned making it all the more compelling.
The 360-view of Knight’s exploration from business to personal makes the tale all the more endearing. He does not shy away from talking about the misgivings he has had, mistakes made, and the regrets born later. It is a far more open and vulnerable account than what I was expecting. I did not to expect to fall in love with the main cast of Blue Ribbon and later Nike. I found myself growing fond of Johnson, Woodell, and Hayes especially. Johnson for remaining uncompromisingly himself throughout the journey, despite all the discouragement he received from Knight and others. Woodell for embodying that Just Do It attitude, in spite of all of his ordeals. Hayes for the levity and banter he adds, I laughed more than a few times reading Knight’s description of Hayes.
If anything, this book embodies the idea that necessity is the mother of invention. The share loved for the art of running the early team had meant that it was never about business for business’ sake. This was underlined most clearly when revealed that a handful of the early team didn’t cash in their pay checks to help free up cash. I just loved reading that part, it made me a little jealous of what they had going, and has strengthened my resolve to follow suit in being a part of something bigger.
While the story maps remarkably to what you would expect from a Hero’s tale, there are some Machiavellian and more than questionable decisions highlighted. This book could be interpreted as a marketing stunt. Written to try be transparent about Nike’s early misdeeds and pave over the cracks the best they can. That said, the underdog spirit of the book prevails for me. It can’t help but leave you inspired, and give you a little hope.
Knight admits that he comes from privilege. I mean what percentage of the population in 1962 could afford to go on a round-the-world trip? But that doesn’t detract from my takeaway from the book: when you still have that youthful fervour, to not take risks is the biggest of all.
Highly recommended. Phil Knight’s memoir is hero’s tale that is full-of-heart, vulnerable, and legacy-defining. Nike’s origin story highlights its early wins, but more importantly the character-shaping setbacks. One to pick up for the physical book shelf when the inevitable desire to re-read it arrives.