At Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., where the buildings are named for the company's top endorsers, an athlete could get an incurable edifice complex. There's the Nolan Ryan Building, the John McEnroe Building and, of course, the Michael Jordan Building. Next month a new home for the company's R&D department will open, and it will be larger than all the rest. It will be named for soccer player Mia Hamm. � Hamm bigger than Jordan? Many nine-year-old girls—including the legions who wear HAMM jerseys and her trademark scowl—would have agreed with that ranking long before Hamm, 27, broke the international career scoring record her mark at the right time on the highest stage of her last Saturday with her 108th goal in a win over Brazil. Hamm's image could get a further boost when she uses her blinding speed and competitive ferocity to lead the U.S. into the 1999 Women's World Cup next month.
Male sports fans might roll their eyes at Nike chief Phil Knight's statement that Hamm's transcendence is rivaled only by that of Jordan and Tiger Woods, but there's no doubt that she's a Madison Avenue dynamo. According to a 1998 Sports Business Daily survey, Hamm is America's most marketable female athlete. You'd have to be on the dark side of the moon to miss those TV spots in which Mia challenges fellow North Carolina alum Michael to a game of Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.
But can she?
To earn Jordanesque stature, an athlete must make her mark at the right time on the highest stage of her sport, and by that measure Hamm has been quite ordinary—a distaff Roger Clemens. In the tournaments that have counted most (World Cup 1991, World Cup '95 and the '96 Olympics) she has been the Americans' fourth-best goal scorer each time.
Here's her chance: It's quite possible that the U.S. will play for the World Cup tide on July 10 in front of 92,000 Stars and Stripes-waving fans in a sold-out Rose Bowl, plus a worldwide TV audience. What if Hamm were to match the two-goal show of France's Zinedine Zidane in last year's men's final? Why, the folks at Nike might have to go to work on a bigger building. Somebody might even name a sandwich after her.