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Nike co-founder Phil Knight: Finding the next Michael Jordan

CNBC CNBC 5/08/2016 Abigail Stevenson

For more than 30 years, Nike (NKE) has been known for its endorsement of legendary basketball player Michael Jordan.

According to Nike's co-founder Phil Knight, the company uses a very sharp pencil with its endorsements and if the athlete doesn't produce the sales, the deal isn't worth it.

"It's an art, and you're going to miss a lot of them … When it all comes together just right, it kind of creates magic," Knight said.

And while athletic companies may pay a lot for endorsement from professional athletes, Knight says both Michael Jordan and LeBron James were absolutely worth it. He did not confirm what Nike pays Michael Jordan today, but said that the original contract was for $250,000 a year.

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Knight founded the company in 1963 with a $500 investment with his former track coach, Bill Bowerman, as Blue Ribbon Sports. With the first shoe sales taking place in the trunk of his Plymouth Valiant, Knight transformed the company into the world's top sports brand and is now the 15th richest man on earth.

Inspired by his recent book "Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike," Jim Cramer spoke with Knight, who said it is not easy identifying the next Michael Jordan.

"I think obviously the whole industry has changed dramatically from the way it began when I got into it. The Jordan brand has become a true brand, and it stands for more than just basketball," Knight said.

Knight attributed the success of the Jordan brand to Michael Jordan being one of the best basketball players of all-time, but also to his dramatic flair. He was able to play a colorful game, spoke well, stayed out of trouble and "jumped over the moon and made all of the clutch shots in the storybook."

Moving forward, Nike has its eye on the Olympics, Knight said. With the Olympic Games as the pinnacle for sports, Knight considers it to be the fashion runway for Nike.

"The Olympics are huge to us. It's the ultimate athletic contest and we are very optimistic on how we are going to show in Rio," he said.

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