Nike has taken a foothold in countries around the world since first emerging as Blue Ribbon Sports in the early '60s.
Before creating what is now a major American supplier of athletic shoes, apparel and sports equipment, Bowerman’s life was engulfed in sports.
Bowerman, who was born in Portland, Oregon, went on to attend the University of Oregon where he played football. Upon his return to the university, Bowerman coached the school's track and field team, helping it claim four NCAAI titles. In addition, he coached 16 sub-four-minute milers, according to Nike.
Bowerman also served as the assistant track coach for the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games and as the head coach for the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.
During his time at Oregon, Bowerman tried to improve running shoes for his athletes, something that “would become part of his legacy: changing the running shoe as we know it,” Nike’s website explains.
Bowerman was reportedly frustrated with the “subpar” running shoes available to athletes. This pushed him to contact multiple athletic footwear companies with suggestions on how to improve. According to Nike, the companies were eager to sell him shoes rather than listen to his recommendations.
Ultimately, Bowerman set out to create his own.
To do so, Bowerman sought guidance from a local cobbler. By 1958, Bowerman began testing what the company dubs "his odd and one-of-a-kind concoctions” on his Oregon runners.
One of those athletes was Phil Knight, a distance runner from Portland who received one of Bowerman’s first creations.
Before school started Bowerman sent Knight a letter saying, “If you have a pair of shoes that you think would make good flats, send them down to me. They will be ready for you when school starts," Nike explains.
The two men soon became friends and ultimately business partners.
Knight was a graduating MBA student when an idea popped into his head. He wondered if he could bring the durability and lightweight design of Japanese shoes to the United States and sell them to major track programs around the country, according to Nike.
Not only did Bowerman buy Knight’s shoes, but he also suggested they become business partners. Both men agreed and Blue Ribbon Sports, later renamed Nike, became a reality.