For the first time ever, Nike founder and board chairman Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands. Nike was founded in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports and initially operated as a distributor for the Japanese shoemaker Onitsuka Tiger (now known as Asics). It officially became Nike Inc. in 1971.
The company was founded with just $1,200 in the bank. It was created by Bill Bowerman — a track-and-field coach — and Phil Knight, a middle-distance runner from Portland who was enrolled in the University of Oregon. Knight had originally wanted to call the company “Dimension 6.” The Nike name comes from the Greek goddess of victory, and it’s pronounced “ny’-kee.” Nike’s first employee, Jeff Johnson, came up with the name.
The first Nike shoes were made inside a waffle iron. Bowerman’s first eureka moment for footwear innovation came in 1971, when he and his wife were making waffles for breakfast: It sparked an idea for a grooved pattern on the sole of trainers to help athletes grip running tracks. It spawned the “Nike Waffle Trainer,” patented in 1974. The slogan “Just Do It” was inspired by serial killer Gary Gilmore, who said “let’s do it” just before he was executed by a firing squad in 1977.