I never wanted to sign with Nike. I had been an adidas fanatic since high school. In fact, I didn't even want to meet with Nike. In the summer of 1984, I had been flying all over the country for various awards banquets, the Bulls, and the Olympics. I was tired of traveling. When it came time to meet with Nike, I told everyone, my agent David Falk, Coach Smith, even my parents, that I wasn't going. I had no intention of signing with Nike and I had no desire to fly to Portland, Oregon.
My parents finally sat me down and said "This is important. You need to listen to what those people have to say." I felt like I was dragged out of Oregon to listen to something I had no intention of acting upon. So I walk into the meeting and there's Rob Stasser, Phil Knight, Tinker Hatfield, Jack George, Peter Moore, and Howard White. Now I'm pleased about being there and I'm barely listening. But Strasser got my attention. They were talking about giving me my own shoe and effectively redefining the entire athletic shoe industry. Strasser did most of the talking. He was a big guy, smooth, energetic, and motivating. Still, I was skeptical because I didn't even like Nike shoes. The money was substantial for that time, $250,000 a year for five years with an annuity, incentives, and royalties on all Nike basketball-related items. It was a great deal, but it also was risky because no one in the industry had done anything like that. Julius Erving became indentified with a specific shoe, but he was never compensated the way I was going to be. Growing up, everyone would say, "I want a pair of Dr.J's." They were Converse shoes. In retrospect, they squeezed the equity out of Julius Erving without ever paying for it. The meeting was interesting, but when it ended I'm thinking, "Fine, now let's go see what Converse has in mind. Then I'm going to sign with Adidas."
Before I went to Converse I talked to Bill Sweek, a sales rep from Adidas I had met at North Carolina. I did this on my own. No one including Falk, knew about the meeting with Bill, I told him what Nike was offering and said, "All you have to do is come close." In the meantime I had to see Converse, which was a very traditional, conservative company. Converse had Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Larry Bird, Mark Aguirre, Dr.J, all the top players. But I had some experience with Converse because we wore them for games at North Carolina and I felt obligated to listen. Their offer was pennies compared to the dimes Nike was offering. They were afraid of making an exception with me, which I understood.
My heart was still with Adidas, but they never made an offer. The decision was a lot easier for Nike. The company's stock had dropped by more than half and was down around $6 a share in 1984. Strasser had to take a gamble. And he did. He wanted to change the entire market by betting on one person. Nike didn't have a second choice. He was a genius. It worked.
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