How did he make his billions? He just did it. In 1964, Knight teamed up with Bill Bowerman, his university athletics coach, to form Blue Ribbon sports. Bowerman customised their shoes with the help of his wife's waffle-maker. First-year profits were around $3,000. In 1971, the founders rebranded as Nike, paying a student a paltry $35 for the now infamous Nike 'tick' logo. Sales hit $3.2m in 1972, and profits doubled each of the next 10 years. Nike went public in 1980, passing industry leader Adidas in the US. But the real sprint began in 1984, when Knight's $2.5m tie-up with backetball ace Michael Jordan turned Nike into a global sports marketing behemoth.
The secret of his success? Making shoes only gets you so far. Knight's masterstroke was in exploiting kids' hero-worship. 'We didn't invent it,' said Knight of mythologising his stars, 'but we ratcheted it up several notches.' Just don't mention sweatshops.