Nike U., the Pinnacle of sports


Long before journalism called, I was a sports nut — probably true for all of us on the staff. The journalism structure within us is built upon our love of the games.

So even on vacation, when that journalistic structure sits empty for a week, the sports nut in us is alive and well. It follows, of course, that when my girlfriend’s aunt and uncle asked us if they wanted a tour of where they work, it was an absolute no-brainer.

They’re both employed by Nike, whose world headquarters are located in Beaverton.

Karen Spooner works in apparel sales, so she’s housed in the Michael Jordan Building. Her husband, Dave, works off-campus in human resources, but he’s frequently on campus giving tours to new employees.

But just to get to the campus, you have to know where you’re going. It sits on the outskirts of town. The only indicator of the company’s presence is a bridge — part of one of the running trails — over the main entrance. The middle, weight-bearing structure sports the company’s famous Swoosh.

And very little of campus is visible from outside. The view is protected by a woods and a grass-covered berm that surrounds the campus.

”It’s very neighbor-friendly that way,” Karen said.

The view from the inside is pretty amazing. Leading into the first set of buildings is a collection? of international flags, all of whom do business with Nike. Ahead of that is a reflecting pool, where water flows on both sides of a central walkway. From there, it’s up just a few steps to the first collection of buildings: Straight ahead is the Steve Prefontaine Building; to the right is the entrance to the Roberto Salazar Building; and to the left sits the John McEnroe Building.

The campus is a bit like Disney World, in that someone with a lot of money made sure their home was different, down to the last detail. The road signs have a curved, metal background and the signs’ main symbol is a cutout in front of the metal. Speed limits, depending on where you are, are either 14.5 or 19.5 miles per hour; no one in our troupe seemed to know exactly why.

Each building is named after someone whose famous for their athletic exploits. There’s the Joan Benoit cafeteria, and even the Joe Paterno Daycare Center. In between the buildings are long, straight corridors; some covered, some not.

In many of the covered corridors is the Walkway of Champions; many athletes are celebrated with a bust and a plaque. The athletes run the gamut from Wayne Gretzky to Calvin Murphy to Rollie Fingers to Lawrence Taylor. In the non-covered corridors, standards hoist 15-foot high banners of players like Dan Marino and Mia Hamm.

The buildings themselves are a mixture of concrete and glass. The style isn’t the same on all of them; but the materials are — from white concrete to the blue-reflecting glass. The campus itself alternates between modern office, forest and wetlands.

After a walk past the Dan Fouts building, a bridge carries pedestrians over a stagnant creek that, on this day, has ducks and a crane grazing just downstream. The bridge leads to the Tiger Woods conference center. Outside the building is several picnic areas. The tables’ awnings have the logo from Woods’ line of Nike clothing, and each awning has a different set of accomplishments. One says, ”US Open 2000 — Pebble Beach 272”. Another says, ”PGA 1999 — Medinah 277”. Some are empty, presumably for major wins not yet known. In front of the Woods building is a water fountain; the water is directed to keep a 30-inch granite ball in perpetual motion.

There’s even a replica of the 18th tee at Pebble Beach. When the building was dedicated, Nike challenged Tiger to hit a shot from that tee box, over the Renaldo soccer field, carrying a row of 8-foot high brush to an artificial green next to the Lance Armstrong Athletic Center.

The Renaldo field, named after the Brazilian soccer star, is perfectly manicured and, not long ago, was a practice site for Manchester United as they began their U.S. tour. The nets have black strings that turn white to form a Swoosh.

A corridor adjacent to the Armstrong building leads to another cluster of buildings: on either side are the long, rectangular Jerry Rice and Pete Sampras buildings. At the end of the corridor is a round building, the Ken Griffey, Jr., and to the right is the Mia Hamm Building, the largest on campus and the home of Nike’s research and development team.

Intermittently, the walking paths change from concrete to gravel paths and wood chips on the running trails. The Armstrong building is for the company’s many fitness buffs, as is the Bo Jackson Building. There’s even an all-weather track that seems to be placed randomly in the forest; on the straightaways, the infield and just outside the track is heavily wooded.

Heading back towards the front entrance, there’s a Japanese garden in front of the campus lake. The Japanese garden is a tribute to Japanese investors who helped get Nike running in 1971 when founder Phil Knight couldn’t secure money from domestic sources.

The lake, large and peaceful – at least on this Sunday – filled the hole left by the berm. After taking all the dirt needed for the berm, the crater was filled with water and became the campus centerpiece. It’s a naturally-filled lake that even has a statue of a fisherman that, from a distance, fools many observers.

That’s a bit like the campus itself. A quiet screen on the outside masks the buzz of the 4,000 workers inside.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. That sports nut deep down inside wouldn’t let me turn down an offer like that.

Brian Hunsicker is a staff writer for the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger. Reach him 703-878-8053 or e-mail bhunsicker&