Knight lacks the billionaire’s bluster of Trump. He has a lower public profile than Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. He only reluctantly gives interviews and hates posing for photos. Private and self-effacing, he seems uncomfortable talking about himself. So this is no surprise: He’s not really looking forward to the publicity tour for his book that started this week.He decided to write it after going to the movies.Over the Christmas holidays in 2007, he and his wife, Penny, went to see The Bucket List. In it, a billionaire businessman portrayed by Jack Nicholson and blue-collar mechanic portrayed by Morgan Freeman, both terminally ill, draw up a list of things they want to do before they die.
Leaving the theater just outside Palm Springs, Calif., the Knights ran into two casual friends who just happened to have come together to watch the same movie at the same time in the same Cathedral City multiplex: Buffett and Gates. Now, the odds that three of the world’s most prominent entrepreneurs (who live in Oregon, Washington state and Nebraska) would bump into one another at a single California movie theater showing seem long, but there it is.”What’s on your bucket lists? I nearly ask, but I don’t,” Knight recalled. “Gates and Buffett seem to have done everything they’ve ever wanted in this life.” But he saw “unsettling parallels” between Nicholson’s character and the unfinished business in his own life. That included his sometimes-strained relationship with his older son, Matthew, and his sorrow over Matthew’s death in a scuba-diving accident at age 34.
Nike’s modest beginnings and explosive growth already had been the subject of tomes and theses. “They always get half the facts, if that, and none of the spirit,” he said. He decided he wanted to tell the story from his perspective, dedicating the book to his grandchildren, “so they will know.”Know what?”So they’ll know who and what their grandfather was,” he says.Knight ran on the Bowerman’s track team at the University of Oregon, then earned his MBA at Stanford. In a seminar on entrepreneurship, he labored over a research paper that explored whether Japanese running shoes could succeed in the U.S. market the way Japanese cameras had cut into German camera sales. Setting off on a worldwide trip, he made a cold call at the Onitsuka Co. in Kobe, Japan, and left with an agreement to distribute its Tiger brand running shoes in the western United States.