"It wasn't just a major, it was the Masters and that gave me goosebumps and to be perfectly honest a few tears. That was a long hard struggle but he did it and I knew how hard he worked and how hard he tried and it was, for me, one of the great moments in sports. You know Michael Jordan 55 points when he had the flu and just a bunch that rise up but that was one of the really great ones."
---Phil Knight on Tiger Woods winning the 2019 Masters
Phil Knight, co-founder and current Chairman Emeritus of Nike, spoke with Brian Kilmeade about getting goosebumps and being brought to tears when Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters, his first major golf championship since 2008. Knight discussed why Nike stood behind Woods at a time when sponsors dropped him because his scandals over the past decade. Knight also discussed how a conversation with LeBron James about his son getting his drivers license lead to him approving of the controversial 30th anniversary "Just Do It" Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. After the initial controversy with law enforcement and members of military speaking out against the ad, Knight said, "At the end of the day for sure most of the military has come around and had a lot of military people that I respect tell me that's why I served in Afghanistan, for the right to free speech. And I think the police have come around as well." Knight also discussed Zion Williamson's sneaker blow out, how President Trump's tax cuts and reducing regulations on businesses have helped manufacturing come back big time in our country and how the economy is booming for everybody. Plus, Knight explains why he is worried about the younger generation under 25 preferring socialism over capitalism and that he is not a socialist.
Listen here for the full interview:
BRIAN KILMEADE, THE BRIAN KILMEADE SHOW HOST: All right, Phil Knight, for my money this is one of the greatest moments in sports.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For many years many doubted we'd ever see it, but here it is. The return to glory.
KILMEADE: I just can remember the moment, Phil Knight, when you were kind enough, when your book "Shoe Dog" was out at the top of The New York Times list. We went to the Tiger Woods building and I asked you, "will Tiger win again?" And I said - and you said, "yes." And he hadn't had his back surgery yet. And I said, "a tournament?" You said, "a Major," and what were your thoughts when he wins the Masters a Major?
PHIL KNIGHT, CO-FOUNDER AND CURRENT CHAIRMAN EMERITUS OF NIKE: Well, yes. It wasn't just a major. It was the Masters, and it was - gave me goose bumps and, to be perfectly honest, a few tears. That was a long, hard struggle, but he did it. And I knew how hard he worked and how hard he tried. And it was one of - for me, one of the great moments in sports. You know, Michael Jordan's 55 points when he had the flu and just a bunch of them that rise up, but that was one of the really great ones.
KILMEADE: But I mean, it's very rare where you could be 43-years-old and win a tournament you won at 21, and then in between, have a life, almost like none I've ever heard of -- he's had four lifetimes. What made you think as great as he is, I (ph) Phil Knight and Nike, we'll stand behind him through the rough times and now the great times again.
KNIGHT: Well, we always believed that it was not an act of charity, as I told you when I talked to you on the book tour, that I really believed that he would win again. And first of all, he's not only basically the most talented player in the game, he's also the hardest worker and he's also the toughest mind.
And you bring all those things together you've got a chance. And I'm not really a golf swing coach, but I know some that are, and I know one of my favorites, Bill Harmon, always said, Tiger Woods can win if he can hit it 280 yards off the tee, and I said, you know, the doctor's got to fix him so he can hit a 280, and his iron game is so good, his short game is so good, his putting is so good, his mind is so good. I believed.
KILMEADE: Here is the mindset of Tiger Woods, all of 14 years old.
TIGER WOODS: That sort of brings me though in the clutch. When you have to make a putt, you make a putt. When you have to hit the shot, you hit shot. You just sort of like drop into another zone and you block everything. That's really helped me.
KILMEADE: That's at 14. Well, something happened along the way, Phil, and you've seen so many great storylines and you've seen so many great athletes not reach their ability. You've also seen him on the golf course lose all his confidence. So was this the same Tiger from 21, 31 that you watched at 43? Is there something about him that was different?
KNIGHT: No, I think first of all, he's a -- he's got the same drivers license, but he's a different guy. That -- basically he was brash and confident and wouldn't let anything interfere with his mindset. And today he shakes hands and recognizes -- he's actually becoming a warm human being. They're both really interesting people, and both people I like. But he's -- I guess the best word is matured (ph) a lot (ph), and I'm sure his being a father of two is -- and going through all the hard times that he did, has changed him and mostly changed him for the better.
KILMEADE: So the Tiger -- I know I read about him in your book, and when your son Matt passed away in 2004, he was one of the first to call; and that meant a lot to you.
KNIGHT: It meant a ton. He was the first -- virtually all the endorsers called, but he was the first one.
KILMEADE: And how does that fly in the face of what people think of Tiger Woods?
KNIGHT: Yes, I've always seen him maybe a little different than other people, and I've always liked and respected him.
KILMEADE: When they were chanting his name, Tiger, the story of your friendship, the journey, signing him as a teenager, moving through -- but he wasn't always beloved. He was feared, he was looked up to, but he wasn't always beloved. Something about America and redemption, we just can't get enough of those stories. And on a golf course, to hear your name chanted, I've never heard that before. What are your thoughts about what you witnessed in the celebration?
KNIGHT: Well yes, it gave me goosebumps. Like you say, it was just unique but it was just storybook. I mean, if you wrote a movie like this, Disney wouldn't (ph) take it. But this one happened to be true and it was truly a magical moment, which kind of only sports can give you. But it was -- it wasn't just one of golf's greatest moments, it was sport's greatest moments.
KILMEADE: Where were you watching it?
KNIGHT: I was at home watching it on the big screen.
KILMEADE: When did you realize this could be the one?
KNIGHT: Well, after the second round he was clearly in the hunt and this could be it.
KILMEADE: And yet, there's so much talent in that field you wonder if this generation is the best and the deepest. What do your guys tell you? What do you think?
KNIGHT: Oh yes, I think the - well, I mean, I guess that would be my opinion and it would be based on my own judgment on what the other people tell me, but - so I'm not speaking for them, but yes. The field is very deep and looking back 30, 40 years ago, there were only three or four guys that could win any of these major tournaments, and now you've got about 20 guys that could win and they're all really good. And that's what made it all the better. It was there's so much drama. There was so many guys on the hunt and there's - one guy would lead and drop back, another step forward. It was magical.
KILMEADE: There's no question, and who's idea was it to make sure that Nike's swoosh was as big as it was and that his son elected to wear that Nike shirt and walk down that path to ultimately get his green jacket indoors. Even though you love the guy, you love the moment, as the founder of Nike, what were your thoughts when you seen father and son hug and the Nike swoosh walk down that aisle?
KNIGHT: Yes, it was - it was, you know, like I say, one of my great moments, and I will say this. Charlie wearing the big swoosh, that was not scripted. He just picked it out of his closet.
KILMEADE: Is that true?
KNIGHT: Absolutely true.
KILMEADE: Wow, and I guess it was really important as Tiger says, the dad - the tiger, the dad.
KNIGHT: Oh yes.
KILMEADE: He said, "I want my kids to see my play well." Have you spoken to Tiger since?
KNIGHT: We've exchanged texts. I guess he was busy talking to the president.
KILMEADE: Yes, and so he golfs with him. I guess he's friends. Do you - now what's next do you think knowing that - what's still ahead this year and what he's capable of?
KNIGHT: You know, he's proved he can play, so if he can stay healthy, he'll be in the hunt in any of them, and I know the Pebble Beach is one of his favorite tournaments - one of his favorite courses, and they're holding the U.S. Open there in June and I wouldn't bet against him.
KILMEADE: And Phil, it's been awhile. I know things have gone well over the next two years and now his golf - he hit azimuth (ph) again, but along the way, Accenture, AT&T, Buick, and Gillette are among the major corporations that walked away. I know you wanted to stay by him, but you also are a publically traded company and you have other people you respect. Can you bring us inside the board room when Tiger has the problem with the DUI, when Tiger had the personal issues and the messy divorce and all those other - and the apology? Can you tell me about the business side of your decision?
KNIGHT: Well as I say, I mean, basically some of the problems - I mean, obviously the DUI was based on, you know, medication that he overdosed on, that it wasn't anything conscious. It was unconscious or unintentional. Yes, we have a great board and they know that we have a very good sports marketing team, and if they say this is what we think, we don't usually get to contrary feedback.
KILMEADE: I'll tell you what, I love the spot that rolled out right after your men or women that - whoever put that together. Genius the way Nike rolls it out and captured the moment, fantastic, understated. I also brought to my attention this add that rolled out and I haven't seen you speak about it, but I've read some comments you've said. And it is Nike's commercial with Colin Kaepernick.
COLIN KAEPERNICK: Believe in something even it means sacrificing everything. So don't ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if you're crazy enough.
KILMEADE: It was very well-done, controversial whether people gave it a big thumbs up or a big thumbs down. Everybody was weighing in on it. It didn't run that much. What are your thoughts about Colin Kaepernick taking the knee and then Nike getting behind him?
KNIGHT: Well, I'm proud of the ad and that, as I've said many times that the first time I saw it wasn't - I said, oh, that I wasn't concerned because I knew it was going to be controversial, but that in many ways what I came to see it was through the eyes of two of my other favorites - Serena Williams and Lebron James. They very much liked the ad and very much liked what he stood for. And when I talked to Lebron - which I've told this story a lot of times, too - have two grandsons that are just getting ready to drive a car and I worry about them all the time that they're going to have a wreck, are they going to go through a stop sign, are they going to have a kid in the car with a beer, and Lebron says, "my son's getting ready to be 16 and what I worry about is he going to get shot by a policeman." And that just gave me chills. It basically to have to think that way would be something that nobody should have to go through, and in many ways, that's what Colin Kaepernick is standing for.
KILMEADE: Did you worry about law enforcement taking it the other way? They take pride in their work, they're not making a -
KNIGHT: Yes, we had lots of controversy that some of the law enforcement did take it the other way and some of the military did, too. I think at the end of the day for sure, most of the military has come around and I've had a lot of military people that I respect tell me that's why I served in Afghanistan for the right for free speech. And I think the police have come around as well.
KILMEADE: And Phil, what do you think now that Kaepernick's got his court case done, what do you think happens to him? Does he want to play?
KNIGHT: I don't know. I would imagine that he probably does and if he's got enough talent left and enough of his body still good enough, I think he'll play.
KILMEADE: Interesting. So I also saw another Nike moment that stood out this year when one of the greatest college players that I've seen, but I would trust your judgment better, Zion Williamson decides to make a cut and his sneaker blew up and it happened to be a Nike sneaker. Were you watching, how did you find out, what are your thoughts?
KNIGHT: Well, I was watching, and of course that isn't what you want, but I kind of understood instantly this guy is unique and he puts a lot of pressure on shoes that most players don't and that - we sent our shoe people back because they met with him at noon the next day and he was wearing a shoe that was designed for a much lighter player.
He likes a lightweight shoe and it had been used for about six weeks which is, you know, putting a lot of strain on the stitching to wear a shoe for that long. And with his power and explosiveness, the shoe tore, and we immediately got to work and literally within 24 hours we had a new shoe that remedied some of those problems.
KILMEADE: So I know, you know, if you read your book - and it's one of the great books I have every read, period - and your story is something that should be in every business school in the country, and judging by your sales maybe it is, but you talked about picking up shoes and you know what it's like to put a sole together and design a sole and every aspect of it where Nike in the beginning had - was intriguing everyone, but you didn't know if it could be mass produced at a level in which you want - you knew every step of the way. Did you have to change the design of the shoe or the type of shoe that Zion would wear?
KNIGHT: Oh no, that - well, it's basically not the same shoe that he tore. Basically reinforced a little differently and, yes, the shoe design is different so that he won't be tearing them up.
KILMEADE: OK, so there's nothing fundamentally wrong with his shoe, he just was wearing the wrong she.
KILMEADE: Got you. Can I talk about the economy for a second?
KILMEADE: If anyone understands the world economy and manufacturing, it's you, one of the things this president wanted to do was bring manufacturing back. You talked about having to go out of the country, especially with Japan to get a lot of your stuff done, especially early (ph). Is manufacturing coming back in this country?
KNIGHT: For sure. It's coming back big time.
KILMEADE: How? Why?
KNIGHT: Well, I think that there's certain thing the United States can manufacture good -- well, and I think that basically the -- I think the tax cuts have helped and I think the regulations -- the reduction -- the reducing the commercial regulations on businesses, I think both those things have helped. I don't think you can argue with that.
KILMEADE: And as we zero in on a trade deal with China, how close are you watching it? What could it mean for our economy? For Phil Knight to feel good about it as representing the business, you went to Stanford business school, and you speak a lot about it, what has to be included in that deal to really help both countries, or especially ours, to be honest?
KNIGHT: Well, I think obviously what they're trying to do is get everybody in agreement on a fair trade, and everything I hear is, they're getting close, and I think that will help both countries?
KILMEADE: Can you build a shoe -- can you make a shoe here for the same price you can make it there?
KNIGHT: Not under current -- not under current manufacturing techniques. But obviously everything included, with all the artificial intelligence and everything, everything is getting more automated, and the day is not that far off when we'll be able to do that.
KILMEADE: Do you have access to their (ph) market like you want?
KNIGHT: Yes, the market -- it's our second biggest market and we're booming.
KILMEADE: The economy, from what you know and from when (ph) you talk to people at all ends of the economic circles, do you feel as though the 3.4 percent unemployment -- the growth which is around 3 percent, the stock market that's going up, is this an economy that looks good and feels good for the population? Not just the white collar and not just the investor, but the blue collar?
KNIGHT: Yes, I mean, basically the economy is booming for everybody.
KILMEADE: And overall are you concerned that people -- the majority of kids under 25, young men and women prefer socialism over capitalism, for a guy that started his -- that started his business in 1972 with nothing and took all types of risks, working his way up, and still looks back and said you cherished those moments. Do you worry that we -- we're not understanding the pursuit of the American dream is the goal and not the guarantee?
KNIGHT: I am not a socialist.
KILMEADE: Are you worried that the next generation is?
KNIGHT: Well, I worry a little about the education of some of the younger kids, yes.
KILMEADE: What can be done about it?
KNIGHT: Well, I think, basically the younger generation is not uneducated. I think they're not stupid either. So I think they'll gradually figure it out.
KILMEADE: Phil, my last question to you. If you were a stock and you were putting money into any sport in America, where is the best investment right now?
KNIGHT: Gosh, I -- you know, I think sports in general is a great investment. There's nothing quite like it for drama, and I think it has a great future. And pick a sport or pick all the sports, they're going to boom.
KILMEADE: Phil, your loyalty to Tiger Woods has been well chronicled and has been rewarded. Thanks so much for your time.
KNIGHT: OK, thanks Brian, good luck.
KILMEADE: Go get them, Phil Knight.