Book Review: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight


In Shoe Dog, the memoir by the creator of NIKE, we see the rise of a fledgling shoe company from a small town in Oregon to it going public in 1980 and turning its employees into millionaires overnight. The book is written by the year and begins in 1962. Here Knight, known as Buck by his friends and family, has just left school and has a crazy idea that bumps up against his dad’s ideas of respectability. He spends time traveling the world in the 1960s and pitching his idea to a rebuilding Japan. Here, a dream is born and a world changed.

As an avid read and sports enthusiasts, I am always sadly disappointed when athletes write their memoirs. Even those that are written more by ghost writers than the subject let me down. This book was quite the opposite. It is so well written and engaging I couldn’t put it down. Though the chapters are long and represents a solid year, the story moves quickly and tension and suspense are nearly tangible.

One of the great things about it is how willing he is to show individuals without fluff or malice. I wrote about this during my review of Steve Young’s latest memoir, that he tip toes around the sensitive points, not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. Knight does not do that. Even to himself. He is willing to call himself out for bad decisions and bad opinions. Even people you come to understand he loves deeply throughout the story, he doesn’t pull punches and insist on talking of them in only glowing terms. It was refreshing. It made the book real without it becoming one of those books that is meant to make others look bad or encourage gossip.

One of the big themes that leapt out to me after reading this was his regret of not having a better home-work balance. This is a topic of conversation that ought to be discussed more widely and I think he barely scratches the surface. He speaks of his experience of having his job be his third child. He says he spent long days in the office and traveled the world regularly, leaving his wife home and the children without as much father-son time as he would like. He even admits that when he was home, he would spend lots of his time thinking about work problems. Though he does share some of his most important moments, the bed time stories with his children.

Can one be a great father, husband and change the world through their career?

Everyone wants the answer to be yes. We all do, extend that to mothers, wives as well. But Phil Knight looks at it much more realistically. He wishes he’d spend more time fostering his relationship with his children, but at what expense to his amazing company that has changed the sports shoe, sports apparel, and professional athlete worlds? Could he have been as successful without his whole heart and soul put into the company?

It is certain he could not do it without the support of his wife who held down the fort at home while he fought the wars away.

The theme of business as war appears regularly throughout the book. He calls business, “War without bullets” and all his heroes are great military men like Douglas MacArthur. This is a great book for the entrepreneur. He gives so many insights and such reasoning behind the tough choices. It is inspirational while also being realistic.

The final points I would like to reflect on is much later on in the book. After dealing with a lawsuit with his original shoe manufacturer in Japan, he comes up against and even bigger and fiercer enemy, the United States government. This part of the book made me extra angry as many of these things he’s talking about are being discussed by a so-called conservative that sits in the White House. U.S. culture and society has long been one the celebrates and encourages the entrepreneurial spirit. We want creativity and liberty to allow individuals to create and grow. So when the United States government, with the help of NIKE’s competitors turned their attention an hurting them, I was irate. A government with the power to choose winners and losers in companies of its own tax revenue, is a government much too large.

This may be the best sports book I have ever read. I would highly recommend it, it is great for all sports fans, business enthusiasts and those who came to age in the 1960s and 1970s. Fantastic read! Go check it out.

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