Donation News Profiles

Phil Knight of Nike Donates $500 Million to U of O

Phil Knight, former head of Nike, has donated half a billion dollars to the University of Oregon – for the second time.

Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Phil Knight attended the University of Oregon in the late 1950s. He graduated in ’59 with a degree in journalism, but the real set up for success that he took from the school was a friendship with Bill Bowerman, his running coach. Knight won varsity letters for track three of the four years he spent at U of O, with a personal best time for the mile of 4 minutes, 13 seconds.

After graduation and a short tour of duty in the army, Knight went on to get a master’s degree in business from Stanford, and he kept in contact with Bowerman. He began to look at Japanese sports shoes and arranged to import a brand of high-quality shoes at (to Americans) low cost.

Bowerman joined him as a partner, both to invest and provide shoe design ideas, and in 1964 on a handshake deal, the two men founded Blue Ribbon Sports, a little company that sold shoes out of a van at track meets in the Pacific Northwest. It took five years for Blue Ribbon to make enough money for Knight to quit his day job. Nine years later, that little company became Nike.

Knight retired from his position as CEO, president, and chairman of Nike in 2016 after a long career, and the same year donated his first $500 million to his alma mater, the University of Oregon. The donation endowed multiple chairs across the campus and a large new laboratory and science complex.

This new donation, bringing the total of donations up to a cool $1 billion, will further the impact of that science complex, adding another building and endowing chairs for a further 14-16 educators in bio-engineering, regenerative medicine, and biomedical data science.

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