No shoestrings attached?

So Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight decided to call a "summit," beginning Tuesday in Chicago, to discuss some of the issues and problems facing basketball – from high school to college to the NBA.

Which is a really good idea because Phil Knight should have a good grasp on the problems in basketball, since he and his company created about half of them.

You would think people would see the irony of Knight hosting a summit to tackle the pressing issues that have a chance to derail the game. You know, like Halliburton having a summit to fight government waste. Or Mike Brown hosting one on efficient disaster preparation.

But apparently none of those people are named Myles Brand (NCAA), David Stern (NBA) or representatives from USA Basketball and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (mostly college) because they are all attending, thereby adding bizarre credibility to Knight's event.

This is sort of like the CEO of Shell Oil calling a summit to discuss issues surrounding pollution and global warming and the head of the Sierra Club, the River Network and the EPA climbing over each other to participate.

The need for discourse is, of course, undeniable. There are plenty of problems facing basketball.

The high school game has been professionalized. Summer basketball is a breeding ground for corruption and unsavory characters. Pro sports agents – and shoe company representatives – routinely court budding superstars as young as 13 years old.

College basketball contains rampant cheating, soaring coaching salaries and a facility construction boom – opulent arenas, locker rooms and lounges – that is bankrupting athletic departments to the point the NCAA had to expand the football season to pay for some of it.

The NBA has serious image problems and stagnant popularity, and it can't figure out what to do with teenage players. And the United States did lose the gold medal in the Olympics.

So a summit? Sure, fine.

But Phil Knight as host? Is this a joke?

  • It is Nike, after all, which created the summer basketball scene, from All-America camps to traveling team tournaments, the things that all the basketball purists blame for the decrease in quality of play.

  • It is Nike that runs ego-expanding national camps for junior high players.

  • It is Nike which funded some of the most notorious traveling of teams and coaches, including Myron Piggie who was sent to prison after he used the money Nike gave him to pay his players, who all wound up getting suspended by the NCAA.

  • It is Nike, after all, which has represented athletes, doled out huge shoe deals and created fan-angering attitudes such as when Alonzo Mourning said he played for Nike, not the Charlotte Hornets.

  • And it is Knight himself who donated $30 million to help fund the University of Oregon's (his alma mater) outlandish and unnecessary $160 million facility construction boom. That includes a $3.2 million locker room that comes complete with personal plasma televisions and "ventilation" systems and is nothing more than a fiscally irresponsible recruiting tool.

That foolishness helped fuel a facility arms race that is causing athletic departments to mortgage all pretenses of an academic mission to pay the bills – Tuesday night football, coast-to-coast mid-week basketball games, expanded seasons, late-night TV games.

Of course, Oregon is famous for erecting giant billboards to promote (and recruit) players, not just in Manhattan for Heisman candidates, but in the hometowns of basketball players, such as Detroit's Malik Hairston. Then again, Hairston used Knight's private plane to travel to Eugene for a recruiting visit, which breaks the spirit of the NCAA's rules of fair play.

It's not that Nike, as a multinational company, or Knight, as a brilliant, self-made man, have to care about any of that. He and his company did what was necessary to build its business. So be it.

But do you think Myles Brand will mention any of the problems the college game has because of Nike and Phil Knight? You think he'll dare to mention misplaced priorities and wasteful spending? How about Stern? Or the coach's association? Or USA Basketball?


Phil Knight, the controller of the greatest gravy train in basketball, has long ago proven he can buy just about anything he wants.

Myles Brand, David Stern and a nice public relations story included.