50 Things You Didn’t Know About Nike

50 years ago, on January 25th, 1964, Nike was born. Well, not Nike we as we know it, but on that date Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman founded Blue Ribbon Sports, which would eventually turn into the biggest athletic brand in the world. With its roots on the campus of the University of Oregon—where Bowerman coached track and Knight ran for him—Nike would change the world of footwear and, eventually, turn a generation of consumers into “sneakerheads.” That’s old news, but with the brand celebrating a half-century in the game, it’s the perfect point to reflect on the little-known tidbits that have occurred over the past 50 years: Who was Nike’s first employee? What was the brand’s first sneaker? Why didn’t Michael Jordan want to wear the Air Jordan 1?
If you wear Nike sneakers on a regular basis, these are all facts you should know. So here’s your history lesson. Here are 50 Things You Didn’t Know About Nike.
 Nike was first formed as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964 and served as a distributor for Onitsuka Tiger.

The Air Jordan 1 was the first sneaker in the Air Jordan 1 line, but it wasn’t the first sneaker Jordan wore in the

As a young Chicago Bull, Jordan first broke out the Nike Air Ship.

Jeff Johnson was the first employee of Nike.

Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman founded the brand, but the first person they hired was Johnson. He also came up with the name “Nike.”

Phil Knight wanted to name the brand “Dimension 6” instead of Nike.

Luckily, the name got nixed, and Nike was chosen.

During a job interview before he started Blue Ribbon Sports, Phil Knight has a big mishap.

He went to reach for a handkerchief, but pulled out an athletic sock. Embarrassing himself and not securing the job, this put him onto the path to found what would become Nike.

Nike, like many other giant brands, doesn’t own the factories its products are made in.

Nike ACG was inspired by hikers who climbed K-2 in Nike LDV sneakers.

Nike’s first ACG sneaker, the Air Magma, took its roots in providing a lighter weight option to the heavy hiking boots on the market, which these hikers were trying to get away from.

When Michael Jordan first saw the Air Jordan 1, he didn’t want to wear it.

His reasoning was, they shoes were “Devil’s colors,” referring to his in-state collegiate rival, N.C. State, which wore black and red.

Shaq wore all Reebok to meet with Nike.

Shaq is back with Reebok, but he already knew he wanted to sign with the brand before he met with Nike. Phil Knight didn’t take it kindly that he showed up to the meeting head-to-toe in Reebok, either. Allegedly, Knight still holds a beef with Diesel.

Savier wasn’t started by Nike, but was purchased by the brand in its early development stages.

This was Nike’s attempt to break back into the skate industry after it had failed in 1996. The result was Nike developing its SB line.

Ilie Nastase was the first athlete to endorse Nike when he signed a contract in 1972.

The Romanian tennis player, although a lesser-known Nike athlete, won two Grand Slam singles titles, and, supposedly, slept with around 2500 women.

The “Just Do It” campaign was first launched in 1988, and is now enshrined at the Smithsonian National Museum.

The campaign consisted of three ads, and would become Nike’s best-known slogan.

Phil Knight refers to Steve Prefontaine as the “Soul of Nike.”

Running legend Pre tragically died in a 1975 car accident at the age of 24, but his running spirit and Oregon roots continue to inspire the brand.

Michael J. Fox just didn’t wear Air Mags in “Back to the Future.”

Marty McFly, Fox’s character in the film, may be best remembered for lacing, er, securing, his Air Mags, but he also skated around in white and red Bruins.

“Just Do It” was inspired by serial killer Gary Gilmore.

Daewoo, the now defunct car company, was responsible for the creation of the Foamposite.

Eric Avar is the designer of the Air Foamposite One, but Daewoo was the manufacturer who made his concept a realistic option.

Carolyn Davidson, a Portland State University student, designed the Swoosh for $35.

The most recognizable branding of Nike was designed a graphic design student. Even though she was paid lightly, Phil Knight, who had met Davidson while teaching, gave her a Swoosh ring with a diamond in it and an unknown amount of stock in 1983.

Foot Locker stopped carrying high-end Nike sneakers in 2003.

Foot Locker wasn’t happy with Nike’s high prices, and cut back on the signature and cop-worthy sneakers from Nike. This caused the brand to rely heavily on other brands such as Reebok, Puma, and adidas.

Nike’s Zoom Air was first introduced in 1995, but it wasn’t called Zoom Air.

This is where the innovation goes down and is now located in Beaverton, Ore. But Nike’s East Coast roots are still strong. There’s also an Employee Store in Greenland, N.H.

The Onitsuka Tiger Corsair was the sneaker that gave birth to one of Nike’s most iconic sneakers, the Cortez.

At a quick glance, the Corsair and the Cortez seem like different sneakers. But the Cortez has an EVA wedge and a slightly more runner-appropriate silhouette.

Phil Knight came up with the idea for a sneaker company while writing a college paper.

Knight believe that sneakers made in Japan could compete with German-made sneakers, adidas and Puma, and hence him linking up with Onitsuka Tiger.

The first “sneaker” to have a Swoosh on it wasn’t a sneaker at all.

It was a soccer cleat. This was the first piece of footwear to have “Nike” attached to it.

Phil Knight’s donations to the University of Oregon, his alma mater, are private and not through Nike.

Oregon might be known as Nike University, but the brand’s donations to the school come in the form of exclusive gear and an on-par budget for athletic funding.

Nike’s Air Max units shrunk because it went away from inflating them with SF6, a greenhouse gas.

Nike’s old Air Max units were huge, and enthusiasts have seen a decrease in the bag size. That’s because the molecules they were filled up with, SF6, were large molecules. The brand now uses nitrogen, which has smaller molecules.

Nike actually made sneakers in the USA.

The brand, these days, is connected with China, Indonesia, and Vietnam, but early sneakers were made Stateside.

The Blazer is named after the Portland Trailblazers.

From 1983-1984, Phil Knight stepped down as president.

The brand was going through its IPO, and things were changing at Nike. Some of the original players chose to leave. Knight still stayed on as chairman of the board and CEO of Nike.

Contrary to popular belief, Nike Golf didn’t start with the signing of Tiger Woods.

Woods signed to Nike in 1996 and launched the now-known “Hello World” commercial. But the initial foundation for Nike Golf was laid in 1984 when Bob Wood wrote the business plan

Mark Parker, the current CEO of Nike, doesn’t have any connection to the University of Oregon.

Despite Nike’s longstanding relationship and mining of the talents of Oregon, Parker never went to school there. In fact, he never went to school on the West Coast. He received his degree from Penn State.

The color “Columbia Blue” is named after the Columbia Lions.

The Ivy League has a long tradition of basketball, but, still, people don’t associate the Columbia men’s team as a basketball powerhouse. They’ve made the NCAA Tournament three times, the last time in 1968 when they finished third overall.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino criticized Nike for having “distasteful” T-shirts on display in the window of Niketown B

The tees were for Nike 6.0 and had slogans such as “Get High” and “Ride Pipe.” In a letter to Nike, Menino wrote, “Your window display of T-shirts with drug and profanity wordplay are out of keeping with the character of Boston’s Back Bay.”

The Air Force 1, which originally came out in 1982, was discontinued after its first year-long run.

It’s strange to not think of the Air Force 1 as a continuous thing, but it wasn’t re-released until 1986.


Nike was pursuing Len Bias before his death.

Bias, a standout at the University of Maryland who some deemed more talented than Jordan, was being courted for a Nike deal. He was a design major, with a keen interest in fashion, and Nike was considering letting Bias design for the brand before his tragic death.

Nike made acid wash golf shorts in 1991.

Denim and golf don’t really match, but Nike is a rogue brand. Can’t blame them for trying.\

The Jeremy Fish x Nike SB Classic was recalled by Nike because it wasn’t satisfied with the embossing on the sneake

As quick as these sneakers hit the shelves, they were gone just as fast. Not because they sold out, no. Nike shipped them all to the outlets.

The commercial for Air Max was the first time a record from The Beatles had been used in a commercial.

Soundalike records from The Beatles had been used in advertising but the use of their song, “Revolution No. 9,” in the Nike commercial was the first use of their actual recording being used to sell products.

Phil Knight thought the Livestrong bracelet was “one of the dumbest ideas he ever heard.”

The Nike/Livestrong collection started in 2008, but Knight’s disbelief in the brand (and the band), at least jokingly, was admitted during an Oprah interview.

Despite the brand’s Oregon roots, the first retail store was opened in California.

Jeff Johnson opened the first store for Blue Ribbon Sports in 1967, and it was located in Santa Monica.

Phil Knight was the first EKIN.

This is because he was a traveling salesman for the brand.

Nike is the only footwear brand to become the leader of the industry, lose its position, and then gain it back.

In the early-’80s, Nike became the leader of the footwear industry, but it soon relinquished that title. Thanks to Michael Jordan, the birth of crosstraining, and clever marketing it regained the top spot. And has never let go since.

Nike accidentally put the map of South Carolina on a T-shirt for the Carolina Panthers.

Unfortunately, the Panthers play in North Carolina.

On May 27, 1990, over 80,000 pairs of Nike sneakers were lost at sea.

It’s no secret that Nike sneakers are made overseas and need to be shipped to the U.S. A cargo ship full of Nike sneakers got lost en route from South Korea to the U.S., and Air Solo Flights, Strike Forces, and Pegasuses have been found floating in the ocean.

Michael Jordan didn’t want to sign with Nike, but his parents made him meet with the brand.

He said, he wasn’t going to sign with the brand because he didn’t like its products. His parents forced him to get on the plane to meet, even if it was decline in person. Luckily, he didn’t.

The early ’90s craving for rugged boots dropped Nike’s stock.

The era was all about grunge and East Coast hip-hop. Teenage consumers weren’t as interested, surprisingly, in ads filled with athletes.

Tinker Hatfield, designer of much of Nike’s core models, is surprised that hip-hop adopted his work.

Nike and hip-hop culture go hand-in-hand, even though the brand is firmly rooted in athletics. In a 2013 interview he said, “Dance music I can understand a little bit more – it’s about movement – but for it to jump the fence and go into modern hip hop culture – I was surprised, happily surprised.”

The Nike Huarache was first inspired by Tinker Hatfield going waterskiing.

The Huarache gets its roots from the Mexican footwear of the same name, but the idea original hit Tinker as he was on the wake and loved having neoprene footwear on.

Originally, a good portion of Nike’s upper management believe that clothes weren’t of importance to an athlete.

They thought that guys would just throw on old sweats and an unmatched T-shirt that they could work out in until they fell apart.

Nike only expected $3M in sales for the first three years of the Air Jordan line.

The line completely surpassed that amount. It booked $130M in the first year alone.

For the ’96 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Nike put out an ad that said, “You don’t win silver, you lose gold.”

Needless to say, people who won silver or bronze medals weren’t happy.

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