"Do I think Nike creates images for athletes that exceed their capacity to perform as athletes or even as people?" Knight says. "My short answer is yes, but it's not just us. It's TV that defines the athletes. They perform on television, and we just expand on the image. Maybe these two things do come together and create something that nobody can live up to."
In 1988 Jordan was on the verge of leaving Nike to form his own marketing company. Before Nike raised his guaranteed fee and increased the equity portion of his deal, Jordan was at a meeting where, he recalls, Knight said in a moment of pique, "Michael Jordan without Nike won't mean anything."
But by 1992 Jordan was being asked how it felt to be God and was long over his anger at Knight's words (which, Knight contends, were misinterpreted in the first place). And after nine years with Nike, Jordan says he has begun to weary under the weight of his image. "Nike has done such a job of promoting me that I've turned into a dream," he says. "In some ways it's taken me away from the game and turned me into an entertainer. To a lot of people I'm just a person who stars in commercials."
Knight sent Jordan a written confirmation that he didn't consider the medals-stand uniform a violation of Jordan's Nike contract. "But Phil didn't realize how loyal I really am," says Jordan. "I think I surprised him."
Before the medals ceremony Jordan said to his attorney, David Falk, "I have to believe what I believe in." Jordan told Falk he was going to put tape over the Reebok emblem in defiance of Olympic officials. "I've got a better idea," Falk said.
So after a week in which Reebok had garnered more publicity from a few cents' worth of contested thread than from all their millions of dollars' worth of prime-time advertising, Jordan and his five fellow Nike endorsers, as well as the six players under contract to other shoe companies, all mounted the medals stand with their collars rolled back to obscure the Reebok name. Jordan stood in the middle with Old Glory draped over the emblem.
Gavitt was philosophical as the "incident" in Barcelona finally passed into sports-hype history. "Michael was nothing but a superstar through the whole thing," he said. "And Phil Knight did everything he could to help. But you've got to say one thing about those guys at Nike: Like 'em or not, they march to the beat of a very separate drummer."
Except that at Nike they don't really march. They all run like people afraid of being caught from behind.
II. On Campus
At 8:30 a.m., Knight's black Acura NSX, sporting a NIKEMN license plate, growled through a gap in an earthen wall surrounding the 74 acres of the Nike World Campus, 10 miles west of Portland. Knight readily admits to having a "thing" about cars. He's not into collecting them—though he does have a Lamborghini Diablo and a Ferrari Testarossa, and he did have a Porsche 911 Turbo until he racked it up last year. "I get sleepy going slow," said Knight. "Fast is safer for me. I've collected 85 speeding tickets over years of staying wide awake."