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III. The Show
Deion Sanders slouched in a wooden chair set in the middle of Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, yawning so long and loud into his lavaliere microphone that the sound technician had to adjust the volume. Neon Deion was heavily accessorized on this day before the Pro Bowl, sporting dark sunglasses, gold bracelets, rings, earrings and a cap trimmed with a Nike swoosh. On the ground below Sanders were a pair of high-tech shoes from the new Deion-endorsed Air Diamond Turf line—gold-mesh, jet-black-and-white cross-trainers the guys in the Jordan building came up with after considering Sanders's 18-carat jewelry and his affection for black Lamborghinis.
In the stadium Sanders said the earpiece he was wearing reminded him of his days working in a fast-food outlet. "But minimum wage didn't cut it," he said. "I wanted"—yawn—"the finer things in life."
"I'm Tom Phillips," a voice suddenly reported in Sanders's earpiece, "category marketing manager for cross-training."
Phillips was speaking from the Nike booth at the sporting-goods industry's annual Super Show in Atlanta, where it was five hours later than it was in Hawaii. As Phillips went on about Nike's desire to "satisfy all the needs of its athletes," to render them as "something more than figureheads...part of a big family effort," Sanders began to wake up and assemble a presence suitable to the moment. By the time Phillips had introduced Sanders to a handful of elite conventioneers among the 96,000 who had come to the mammoth Atlanta show at the Omni Center, Sanders's boyish grin was duly affixed. It was showtime in Nikeworld, and when the red light went on in Hawaii, Sanders was laughing and smiling "via satellite" and more than ready to explain that "playing two sports makes me feel like a kid, like kids who play their sports all year round," and to announce that he believed in his heart "you got to look good to play good."
Outside the multimillion-dollar environment that 65 Nike employees had unpacked from four railroad cars and numerous semis, the sporting-goods bazaar seemed to go on forever. The show covered 25 acres, and everywhere you looked—more than any other single sporting thing—there were shoes. Nike ads dominated displays on walls at the Atlanta airport baggage area. Nike images lined billboards along Interstate 85 on the way into town. The Nike team had turned the ballroom at the Omni Center into a shrine to "The #1 Sports and Fitness Company in the World." This reference to Nike's dominance vaulted in huge letters across the entrance to an escalator leading to the mazelike sound-and-light show that was the Nike outpost in Atlanta.
Exhibitors at the four-day Super Show are not allowed into the enclosed booths of other manufacturers. Indeed, most members of the Nike army in Atlanta tended to avoid anything beyond the most casual contact with competitors. This was sometimes difficult for veterans because—as with General Motors, Sears and IBM in their heyday—former Nike employees have seeded the entire athletic-shoe and apparel industry with talent.
Jim Moodhe was Nike's first sales manager and one of those who became rich when the company went public. Moodhe retired from Nike a year later, at the age of 34, to drive race cars and, he says, to pursue other "Walter Mitty dreams." Now he is the president of Guess Athletic, one of a dozen or so brands that reside on the tier below Nike and Reebok.
Instead of offering Bo in person or Deion by satellite, Guess featured Anna Nicole Smith, the model from the Guess apparel ads and current Playmate of the Year. "From the crumbs that fall off Nike's plate you can catch $300 million to $400 million worth of yearly sales, which isn't half bad," Moodhe said. "The trick is to find a niche where they don't dominate."
It was during the Super Show that Adidas USA announced that Strasser was taking over. He would be joined in his effort to revive Adidas by Peter Moore, the designer of Nike's original Air Jordan line and of many other Nike shoes. "Adidas people were the Huns," Johnson noted from his retreat in New Hampshire when he heard of Strasser's move. "I would starve to death before I'd work for Adidas."