Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

Knight, Phil

Part One


In every religion, it seemed, self is the obstacle, the enemy. And yet Zen declares plainly that the self doesn’t exist. Self is a mirage, a fever dream, and our stubborn belief in its reality not only wastes life, but shortens it. Self is the bald-faced lie we tell ourselves daily, and happiness requires seeing through the lie, debunking it. To study the self, said the thirteenth-century Zen master Dogen, is to forget the self. Inner voice, outer voices, it’s all the same. No dividing lines.


Again and again I learned that lack of equity was a leading cause of failure.


Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.

But my hope was that when I failed, if I failed, I’d fail quickly, so I’d have enough time, enough years, to implement all the hard-won lessons.


And then Adidas threatened to sue. Adidas already had a new shoe named the “Azteca Gold,” a track spike they were planning to introduce at the same Olympics. No one had ever heard of it, but that didn’t stop Adidas from kicking up a fuss.

“Who was that guy who kicked the shit out of the Aztecs?” he asked. “Cortez,” I said. He grunted. “Okay. Let’s call it the Cortez.”


Primary principle of all accounting: Assets equal liabilities plus equity.


Shoe dogs were people who devoted themselves wholly to the making, selling, buying, or designing of shoes.


He had a superb talent for underplaying the bad, and underplaying the good, for simply being in the moment.

Part Two


That’s what men do when they fight. They put up walls. They pull up the drawbridge. They fill in the moat.


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, and when you do it all crisply and efficiently, smartly, the way everything should be done but so seldom is—you’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully, and if that’s business, all right, call me a businessman.


I thought of that phrase, “It’s just business.” It’s never just business. It never will be. If it ever does become just business, that will mean that business is very bad.


  • Sinewy – consisting of or resembling sinews
  • Slaking – quench or satisfy (one’s thirst)
  • Trattorias – an Italian restaurant serving simple food
  • Languorous – the state or feeling, often pleasant, of tiredness or inertia
  • Podiatry – the treatment of the feet and their ailments
  • Noisome – having an extremely offensive smell
  • Avuncular – of or relating to an uncle; kind and friendly toward a younger or less experienced person
  • Internecine – destructive to both sides in a conflict
  • Fealty – a feudal tenant’s or vassal’s sworn loyalty to a lord
  • Quotidian – of or occurring every day; daily
  • Pagoda – a Hindu or Buddhist temple or sacred building, typically a many-tiered tower, in India and East Asia.
  • Suffused – gradually spread through or over
  • Carapace – the hard upper shell of a turtle, crustacean, or arachnid.
  • Vaunted – boast about or praise (something), especially excessively
  • Quixotic – exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical
  • Machinations – engage in plots and intrigues; scheme
  • Vehement – showing strong feeling; forceful, passionate, or intense
  • Portentous – done in a pompously or overly solemn manner so as to impress
  • Wantonly – (of a cruel or violent action) deliberate and unprovoked
  • Stolid – (of a person) calm, dependable, and showing little emotion or animation.
  • Amanuensis – a literary or artistic assistant, in particular one who takes dictation or copies manuscripts.
  • Guile – sly or cunning intelligence
  • Beguiled – charm or enchant (someone), sometimes in a deceptive way
  • Quell – put an end to (a rebellion or other disorder), typically by the use of force
  • Debentures – an unsecured loan certificate issued by a company, backed by general credit rather than by specified assets.
  • Paradigmatic – of the nature of a paradigm or model
  • Denouement – the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved
  • Fetid – smelling extremely unpleasant
  • Subterfuge – deceit used in order to achieve one’s goal
  • Gabardine – a smooth, durable twill-woven cloth, typically of worsted or cotton
  • Ginkgo – a deciduous Chinese tree related to the conifers, with fan-shaped leaves and yellow flowers
  • Castigating – reprimand (someone) severely
  • Mohair – the long, silky hair of the angora goat
  • Genuflecting – lower one’s body briefly by bending one knee to the ground, typically in worship or as a sign of respect
  • Guffaw – a loud and boisterous laugh
  • Fusillade – a series of shots fired or missiles thrown all at the same time or in quick succession
  • Bacchanal – an occasion of wild and drunken revelry
  • Coterie – a small group of people with shared interests or tastes, especially one that is exclusive of other people
  • Opulence – great wealth or luxuriousness
  • Feted – a celebration or festival
  • Bulwark – a defensive wall