Nike co-founder and chairman Phil Knight will get inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Friday night. With that in mind, we caught up with Nike president and CEO Mark Parker, who joined the company in 1979 as one of its first shoe designers, to talk about what makes Knight unique.
On what people should know about Phil Knight:
"What people should know about Phil is that he is incredibly competitive, he loves sports and he absolutely loves athletes. When he is with athletes, he's like a little kid, his personality changes and he adopts another level of energy. He's always been that way since I've known him. He was a runner, but he loves all sports. He is a basketball and track and field geek who is knowledgeable and passionate. And it's that passion, and that tremendous respect that he has for athletes, that has driven Nike's culture. Nike is now full of people like that."
On stories about Knight urging someone at Nike to sign a particular athlete:
"Phil is passionate about the business and the relationship with the athlete is at the top of the list. He is keenly aware of someone who is out there. And he perks up when there's someone he takes a special interest in. That's not to say that people here don't know about that athlete, but he helps put the exclamation point on it. And he doesn't have to say much. He's not a person of many words, but we know where he's coming from. He is very much like (Nike co-founder) Bill Bowerman; he's as direct of a person as anyone I've ever worked with. He's predictable in a good way."
On his relationship with the athletes themselves:
"I remember when were were signing Michael Jordan out of college, or Charles Barkley, he just loved meeting with athletes, not only getting to know about them competitively, but also as people. And that's what Nike did and does: Find dimensions of an athlete's personality, pull it out and amplify it back in our advertising and in our product."
On the product:
"He had an absolute obsession with the product. It has gotta be good, it has gotta be right, it has gotta be relevant and it has gotta be real."