Book Review: Shoe Dog A Memoir by The Creator of Nike

There are many memoirs about success. “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by The Creator of Nike” is not one of them. It’s raw, real, and for many entrepreneurs currently on their own journey, relatable.

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There are many memoirs about success. “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by The Creator of Nike” is not one of them. In an honest and humble approach, the founder of Nike, Phil Knight, takes readers through a distressing journey of his many, many failures. It’s sure to leave readers questioning, “Again?! When do we get to the part where he succeeds?” Spoiler alert: It’s not until the very end (as a result, since patience is not my strongest attribute, I finished the book in a personal record-time– one week).

Knight takes us back to the 60s, when he was an eager 20-something year old with a “Crazy Idea” to sell some imported Japanese athletic shoes out of the trunk of his Plymouth Valiant. He teams up with his former track and field coach at the University of Oregon, legendary Bill Bowerman, and the two set out to change the way American footwear is made. They co-create Blue Ribbon Sports, the original company name before it became Nike, where Bowerman finds a new use for a waffle maker (you’ll see). Along the way, readers might expect the occasional hiccup in design flaws, a struggle to market the new shoe, maybe some money issues. That’s just the beginning.

Photo by Rafa De on

It’s hard to imagine a time when the Nike swoosh— an iconic symbol of athletic performance and endurance– didn’t exist. It might be even more difficult to imagine the tribulations before it became a worldwide success (in January, 2021 Nike was worth over $30 billion). Chapter by chapter, Knight is in constant financial ruin. Even when shoe sales start to take off, the debt outweighs the profits and both Knight and the company are hanging on by a shoelace. This is compounded by duplicitous business behavior and ongoing law suits. Geeze, does this guy ever get a break? Not really, and that’s what makes the book so worthwhile. It doesn’t gloss over the details. It’s raw, real, and for many entrepreneurs currently on their own journey, relatable.

Knight’s drive to succeed is painfully obvious. He takes on full-time jobs– accountant, professor– to stay afloat while traveling around the world to pursue his Crazy Idea. He implements the help of some unlikely personalities (former colleagues, classmates, etc) to get business off the ground and running. Throughout every hardship, every hurdle, it’s the combined dedication and support of the team that lands the company on its feet. But perhaps the most surprising part of it all, as readers will come to learn, is that Knight didn’t come up with the name “Nike” or the “swoosh.” So then how is he the creator of Nike?

A name or logo does not define a company’s founder, yet we’re all so quick to think of it in those terms. Rather, it’s the passion and commitment to a vision that, as we come to learn, matter most. Knight’s perseverance and business stamina is the reason why the company, Blue Ribbon and Nike, crossed the finish line. He believed the road to success was to “fail fast” and then continue on. Going out of business simply wasn’t an option.

Shoe Dog is, as expected, heavy in sports references and Knight’s tone is a reflection of that. He’s the “guy’s guy,” full of comical wit. As a woman, reading the banter, I feel like I was finally let inside the Nike locker room. Grab a sports reference book (to be safe) and get ready for a page turner that will leave you at the edge of your seat. You’ll be glad you Just Read It.

My favorite quotes from the book:

  • “Belief, I decided. Belief is irresistible.”
  • “I wanted to build something that was my own, something I could point to and say: I made that. It was the only way I saw to make life meaningful.”
  • “Life is growth. You grow or you die.”
  • “Sometimes you have to give up, Sometimes knowing when to give up, when to try something else, is genius.”
  • “For us business was no more about making money than being human is about making blood…..that day-to-day business of the human body isn’t our mission as human beings. It’s basic process that enables our higher aims, and life always strives to transcend the basic process of living….We want….t create, to contribute, and we dated to say so aloud. When you make something, when you improve something, when you deliver something, when you add some new thing or service to the lives of strangers, making them happier, or healthier, or safer, or better…. You’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully.”

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