One of the most influential figures in sports, Phil Knight is the co-founder of global juggernaut Nike. After selling sneakers from the back of his car, Knight launched Nike (originally named Blue Ribbon Sports) with his college track coach in 1964. Nearly sixty years later, Knight is one of the richest men in the world and Nike is one of the most iconic brands on the globe. Knight, who is now chairman emeritus at Nike, built the company from the ground up. In addition to earning a reputation as a visionary businessman and a hard-nosed CEO, he is widely credited with expanding the game of basketball around the world through Nike's innovative products and influential marketing. The billionaire businessman started out as an athlete himself and was a middle-distance runner for the University of Oregon track team, which at the time had one of the best programs in the country. As of July 2021, Knight has a net worth of $60.8 billion. In 2012, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor. Over the years, Knight has also added philanthropy to his credits, with lifetime gifts amounting to approximately $2 billion.
An indifferent student for much of his youth, Knight's decision to enroll at the Stanford Graduate School of Business was a game changer. For the first time in his life, school wasn't drudgery. At Stanford, Knight took an entrepreneurship class from Frank Shallenberger, who directed the students to develop a business plan for a new company. In his paper, "Can Japanese Sports Shoes Do to German Sports Shoes What Japanese Cameras Did to German Cameras?" Knight developed a blueprint for superior athletic shoes, produced inexpensively in Japan, where labor was cheaper. "That class was an 'aha!' moment," Knight said. "First, Shallenberger defined the type of person who was an entrepreneur—and I realized he was talking to me. I remember after writing that paper, saying to myself: 'This is really what I would like to do.'" And so, with his sails full of entrepreneurial wind, in 1962 Knight graduated with an MBA from Stanford and was ready to make sports history.
Since leaving, Knight has become a major benefactor of Stanford University, having gifted his alma mater hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. In 2006, the shoe mogul donated $105 million to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, which, at the time, was the largest ever individual donation to a U.S. business school. In honor of his generosity, the campus was named "The Knight Management Center." In 2016, Knight topped his previous philanthropy with a $400 million donation to start a graduate-level education program at Stanford that is inspired by the Rhodes Scholarship. More recently, the Nike co-founder gifted his school $75 million to study cognitive decline and degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.