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We’re starting fresh this season. For starters, we decided to go back to basics and rebrand as The History Factory Podcast. Why? Because we want to continue to serve you, our listeners, with content that best fulfills our mission of making clients’ history and heritage infinitely useful in pursuit of their missions. And that starts with our name. 

For fans of “History Factory Plugged In,” fear not: This doesn’t represent a departure so much as an evolution of the same great content you love. Our new format will feature guest hosts and a slate of all-star guests from some of the world’s leading companies.

This week’s episode features Scott Reames, Nike’s former corporate historian and head of the Department of Nike Archives (DNA). Scott recently retired and spent some of his newfound free time speaking with guest host Erin Narloch, History Factory’s senior director of business insight & performance. The two discussed the hit movie “Air,” how DNA came to be, the value and uses of the Nike archives, and more.

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Jason Dressel: Today on The History Factory Podcast we sit down with Scott Reames, longtime Nike historian. I’m your host, Jason Dressel, and welcome to The History Factory Podcast, a new podcast at the intersection of business and history. I say “new” because this is officially the inaugural episode of The History Factory Podcast, but it’s a makeover. It’s Generation 2.0 of our “History Factory Plugged In” podcast, which we have decommissioned for a new ship. That podcast, which was our first foray into this medium, has been great, and we’re building on some of the learnings from that experience over the last few years with this new podcast, which is an extension of a broader rebrand of History Factory, the brand heritage and archives agency that I’m honored to lead. If you’re interested in learning more about History Factory, then you can check us out at, and you can access all of the old and future podcasts in the same feed. So you can go back and listen to past “History Factory Plugged In” shows, and we’re going to move forward with the new History Factory Podcast.

How may it be different, you may ask? Well, first, the name: Sometimes you come up with a name, you don’t overthink it and then you just go with it. That’s what happened with “History Factory Plugged In.” We threw out the idea, the name stuck and off we went. So now, in a major shift, we’ve decided to really underthink it and just go with The History Factory Podcast, because the thinking here is that if we’re going to use this podcast to build brand awareness of History Factory, why put any extra sauce on it? Let’s just use the most basic ingredients and keep it really lean and simple.

Also, you’ll see that we’re going to streamline and categorize our editorial focus a little more based on the kinds of shows we’ve had. What we like to talk about will highlight iconic brands, their origin stories and maybe what’s misunderstood about them. We’ll talk about books that have a unique take on business, both from a historical perspective and from the perspective of history in the making and in an area that seems to be growing, and we’ll talk about that on this podcast. We’ll also explore brands and the use of brand history and heritage in entertainment, as well as other special-edition topics from time to time. And we’re going to bring some other History Factory voices into History Factory’s new podcast, like my colleague Erin Narloch, who you are about to hear have an awesome conversation with Nike’s Scott Reames.

We’re excited about these tweaks to our format and hope that you enjoy becoming a listener and follower of The History Factory Podcast. If you like what we’re bringing here, share us with friends, follow us, give us a nice rating, all that good stuff. This is a fun project and a labor of love for a handful of us here on the History Factory team, and we hope that you find the content to be an interesting, informative and fun listen. So with that, today we have the good fortune of bringing you a conversation between my colleague Erin Narloch and Scott Reames, who before officially retiring from Nike recently was the company’s first historian and a nearly 30-year veteran of the company.

One of the reasons we were excited to sit down with Scott wasn’t just because he has so much insight and so many great stories about one of the great companies and brands of our time, although he does, but also because there seems to be a phenomenon happening. I don’t know if this is something that you’ve noticed, but there is a trend seemingly underway of companies and brands that appear to be increasingly integrating into the lexicon of popular culture and entertainment. The movie “Air” is just one of the latest examples of that. Let me first say that we have not done any real research on this, so this is admittedly anecdotal, but there’s been media about it, and I’ve heard it discussed on some podcasts that I listen to, including recently the popular podcast “The Rewatchables,” which is dedicated to films.

As the amount of streaming video content is continuing to proliferate, one of the things that I’ve noticed is this increase of business history stories in mainstream content. What really caught my attention first on this was the series “The Offer.” If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a really entertaining series on Paramount Plus—at least that’s where it was initially—about the dealmaking behind the film “The Godfather.” What struck me about that show—which is entertaining, by the way, and has a cast that includes Miles Teller, Colin Hanks and Giovanni Ribisi—what caught my attention about that was this kind of meta aspect to it, that it’s on the Paramount Plus network, but Paramount the studio is also the setting of the show, with Paramount Studio and Paramount executives from the 1970s as characters on the show.

Shows like “The Offer,” or “WeCrashed” about the WeWork collapse, or the new Apple film “Tetris,” or “Air” about Nike and the Michael Jordan deal: These are all really popular and entertaining productions that have an audience and are not being produced with the banking and backing of the companies they represent. As you’re about to hear from Scott, for instance, Nike had zero involvement in “Air.” I’m fascinated by this, because as you’ll also hear from Scott, as entertaining as “Air” is, it’s also not really accurate in the least. And look, I’m not naive or a romanticist. I’m not suggesting that the world we live in is in any way more or less accurate than ever before. There’s always been fiction inspired by real events. But what I do find interesting is how real companies, real brands, real people and real business events are increasingly becoming part of this entertainment landscape.

My theory on why this is happening is because of probably lots of things, but at least two things: One, it’s a reflection of the more prominent role that brands and the presence of large corporations have been playing in society over the last 50 years and their presence in popular culture. And two, it’s the popularity of shows that are seen in a different time and the power of nostalgia, which is nothing new. But clearly these shows and films would not be getting made and distributed if there was not an audience for them. It’s an interesting thing. I think it’s going to be an interesting trend to follow, especially in scenarios when companies and brands don’t like how their representation is happening and they’re concerned about the impact on their reputation and ultimately their financial performance. And I think it’s going to be really interesting in terms of these portrayals that are deeply inaccurate and how, over time, companies and brands may or may not respond to that.

As you’ll hear Scott explain, overall, Nike is probably very OK with the net effect of “Air,” because it helps sustain the myth and the legend of the Nike and Jordan brands. But minimally, there are a lot of people and events that are mischaracterized or left out of the story entirely. So Erin and Scott are going to talk a lot, and they’re going to talk about a lot more than just “Air.” Erin herself has a background in heritage brands and has worked with other shoe apparel companies, so you’ll hear her and Scott refer to that. They’ve got common ground there, and they have a great conversation not only about the history of Nike but also with a lot of really interesting insights about building and running a corporate archives and history function for a global company. It’s a great conversation, and I hope you enjoy listening to Scott Reames and my colleague Erin Narloch.

Erin Narloch: Thanks for that intro. I am so happy to have you here with us today, Scott. The movie “Air” has really brought to life some legend and lore, some myths, but it’s also cemented this time period now in the consciousness of culture. What are your thoughts on this? How is it operating for Nike? What’s the value like?

Scott Reames: Oh my gosh. This has been—not ruining. It’s been ruling in my life, not ruining, for about a month, right? First off, Nike was not involved really in any way in this movie at all. The only actor who I know reached out to the character he was playing was Chris Tucker talking to Howard White. But nobody talked to Phil. Rob Strasser and Peter Moore have both passed. Nobody talked to me; nobody talked to the Department of Nike Archives. There was no involvement there. So that was frustrating to me when I found myself watching the movie in the advance show that Howard had arranged for us to see. In the first scene, the Howard White character and the Sonny Vaccaro character, Matt Damon, are talking about “Just do it.” That came out in 1988. This movie is set in 1984. So, again, I was trying really hard, and so many people said: “It’s a movie. It’s not a documentary. Just go and enjoy it.” And I was trying, and then, Erin, they started with that, and I was like, “Oh, God, here we go.” And then one thing after another, it was like, “No, no, no, no, no.”

So I watched it all the way through, and my mind was kind of reeling, like, “OK, well, I don’t—there are a couple of things.” I was like, “We’ve talked to almost all the people that were in this movie, and I don’t remember ever hearing that story before.” Again, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It just means that we didn’t think to ask the question or it just didn’t come up. But I remember thinking at the time, “I’ve got to go double-check that.” So I called a couple of my old staff and I said, “This happened.” And they said, “I don’t think so.” And I said, “And then that happened.” I said, “I don’t remember any of that.” “Yeah, we haven’t heard that either.”

So then I had to go a second time, a week later, for the grand opening on April 5. This was with a bunch of alumni; Nike has an alumni association. They rented out the theater. Myself and a man named Mike Caster, who was actually in the room when the Jordan pitch was made and not in the movie—no one knows who he is. No one knows about him. Well, now they do. Sorry, Mike. He’s the one guy I know I can trust, because he’s the only person who doesn’t claim that he was responsible for signing Michael Jordan. He and I agreed to do a panel discussion afterward, and we never really even got to that, because the room was filled with a ton of people who knew Rob and Peter and Sonny and Phil and who worked at Nike in the 1980s.

They knew much more of the story that we even needed to present, and my goodness, there was a buzz of people talking about Jason Bateman being nothing like Rob Strasser, Peter Moore being called “Pete” when his name was Peter—nobody called him “Pete.” There were little things like that, and there were bigger things like—Sonny Vaccaro never negotiated contracts. That was Rob Strasser. Deloris Jordan, Michael’s mom, didn’t negotiate the contract. That was David Falk, the agent. So it started to bubble up, and then somebody finally said, “When did Sonny go to North Carolina?” And everybody said: “He didn’t. He never went to North Carolina.” Then I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this is really spiraling,” because these are things I didn’t know. That was one of the things I didn’t know. I just have a problem with this, because it didn’t need to be told that way—but I’m not a Hollywood mogul. I’m just a historian who knows the actual story.

EN: Yeah. I think sometimes it’s being that steward and holding on to the mission of an organization for your lifetime, really, when you work as a historian. Can you just give us a little bit of an introduction—when you started at Nike and then how you made your way into working as the historian and with the Department of Nike Archives, the best name of an archives possible, so DNA?

SR: I’m glad you like it, because it was my idea.

EN: Amazing.

SR: I’m pretty happy with myself, because some of the Nike acronyms are so tortured. It’s like, you just went out of your way to come up with something goofy just so it would all make a word. So when I was thinking around the idea of basically proposing that the historian role be created—and I’m getting out of order here. Since we started talking about DNA, I’ll start there first. When I was kicking around the idea of creating the historian role in 2004, we had an archive and records department and it was just called, very imaginatively, archive and records. Very, very descriptive—you certainly know what you’re talking about—but it just didn’t really have as much punch in my mind.

I put together a proposal that essentially would take the current archive and records department and muscle it up with an historian role so there would be capturing of the stories behind the things. They were really great at capturing the things. They had a ton of really cool old products and vintage products, artifacts, but the stories behind them were spotty, contradictory, sometimes incomplete. That was when I thought of the creation of the historian role. Then I thought, “Well, as long as we’re going to muscle up the archives, let’s rename it.” So that’s when DNA came to me, like Jeff Johnson with Nike in the middle of the night. No, it wasn’t like that. Anyway, I’ve done the end first, so then we go back to the beginning. I started with Nike in 1992, and anybody who knows Nike history—that was a nutty time in the company history. We’d been No. 1 for a long time. We dropped to No. 2 to a company called Reebok, which I believe you’re familiar with, Erin.

EN: Just a little.

SR: Just a little. So in the late ’80s, we were regaining our footing a little bit. We got this guy named Michael Jordan to wear shoes. We had “Just do it.” We had “Bo Knows,” and that cross-training category went from $0 to $1 billion in less than 10 years, so by 1990 or 1991, we’d caught up to Reebok again and passed them. From 1991 to 1997 or 1998, we went from a $3-billion-a-year business to $9 billion, which is insane. I was there in ’92 as part of this gigantic wave of hiring and growth, so I was hired to do the NikeTown. We had two NikeTowns at that point: Portland, the first one, and Chicago had just opened in July 1992. So I was hired to do the marketing in advance for the NikeTown stores, and then they added Atlanta and Orange County, and it became this rolling sea of NikeTowns across the country.

I started working with archives a little bit because we had a lot of displays in the stores, and especially in the early days, they weren’t so much about retail. They were more about marketing. So there would be a lot of autographed athlete stuff in the stores, especially in Chicago, as you can imagine—the ’90s, a lot of Bulls stuff, Michael, etc. So I got to know the folks a little bit, and then, over time, when I moved into the sports marketing department and into the PR department, I would work with archives again depending on what we were doing, what we were launching, and if there was an historical component to it, then I would want to involve that if possible. So I would talk with those folks. I was aware of them but not fully aware, if you know what I mean.

The tipping point for me was in 2002 when I was in the U.S. PR department and they created a new department called global brand communications or global business communications—I don’t remember what it was originally called. There were three of us that were elevated into that global role, and that essentially was to be in charge of earnings calls, annual meetings, shareholder meetings, the communications for these things and then for our corporate executives—so Phil Knight, Mark Parker, etc. There were three of us who handled the communications for those folks, and I had luck of the draw. I got Phil Knight and a couple other senior executives, so I would be facilitating interviews that they would do with USA Today or Fortune magazine or whatever. Invariably they would get asked questions about the history of the company: When was the swoosh designed? Who designed it? How much did you pay? And I’m not kidding you, Erin, every time any of them told the story—even the same person would tell the story—it would differ. “We paid $50 for the swoosh.” “We paid $75 for the swoosh.” “We paid $35 for the swoosh.” Like, OK, we paid something for the swoosh. It had to be one particular dollar amount. How come it keeps changing? And again, nothing that was really dramatically changed in the history of the company—it was really more of just an irritating little nit of, “Well, what did we pay?”

So that started getting at me, and then I started realizing, the more we had these great people telling these stories, we didn’t have a lot of them written out. It was all oracle-type things where you go and you hear somebody and they tell a great story, which is fantastic, and there’s nothing better than hearing it from the originator, but you are not immortal, right? We had just lost Bill Bowerman in 1999. He had passed away. Rob Strasser, who had been a pivotal person in our corporate history, died in ’93. Time is undefeated. It was going to happen to all of us. I had all these things in my mind, and I put together that proposal, the DNA proposal, in 2004, and ran it by Phil. Phil liked it, and a few weeks to a few months later, I got a call that a head count had been approved, and they were going to create the historian role, and was I interested? And I said yes.

EN: That’s just incredible. In the early days, what did the historian role look like?

SR: was definitely the Wild West to a certain extent, right? I mean, there were documents that existed. We have our annual reports, we have old memos, things like that, but the archive up to that point had been a lot more about the product, which is fine—certainly the Jordan 1 and the Jordan 2, etc. The documents, the letters, the memos from the ’60s and ’70s were not really front and center, so I started there, because there was the book that was written by J.B. Strasser—Julie Strasser—and her sister called “Swoosh: The Unauthorized Story of Nike and the Men who Played There.” That had an odd past, because when Julie started to pitch the book, she and Rob were working for Nike. But while they were working, while she was writing the book, that’s when Rob left, as did Julie, and so it became a very odd journey for that book. A lot of people within the company felt that it was perhaps biased, because there was now this thing about, “Well, Rob left, and now Rob and Phil aren’t friends anymore,” and I’ll get to that later.

So that was the only real guidepost that I had, a book that had stories about the early, early days. What I would find is that a lot of our internal stuff within Nike, internal timelines and other things, have incorrect information. I’m literally not going to trust any Nike timeline. I’m going to start a brand-new one, and I’m putting nothing on it unless I can confirm it from an actual source like a newspaper article, a memo or something, or just with my best forensic efforts.

EN: Something you mentioned: You talked about lore and primary sources, so matching articles but also talking with people. I love that the concept of product has legend and lore all around it. Thinking about the use cases for all this research you’ve done for Nike: Early on, where was the value, and evolving over 20 years now since there’s been a formalized DNA department, where’s the value today in having the Department of Nike Archives?

SR: Well, there’s been a number of developments, most recently thanks to the company’s 50th anniversary last year. I actually bailed before that and retired in October 2021 before the 50th anniversary, which got a lot of snide looks from my old staff, because: “Really? Now you’re leaving?” But let me go back. One of the first things that we were adamant about when I started to hire—I was able to start hiring people over time, s o I had zero people reporting to me at the beginning, but when I retired I had seven people reporting to me. Anybody who works at a corporation knows headcount and what a godawful thing it is to try to get that, so the fact that Nike gave me seven after zero shows that they valued the work that we were doing. From the very beginning I had this mantra of: “We have to tell stories. We have to stay true to why it matters.” Yes, stuff happened a certain time in a certain way at a certain day—but if it doesn’t matter, if it doesn’t impact the current generations of Nike, it’s more academic and it’s not really educational. It’s more like, “Huh.” I always use the example of a Hershey bar. Your grandpa will say, “Oh, when I was a kid, Hershey bars were 10 cents. You’re like: “Great, grandpa. They’re $1.50 now, so what difference does it make?” Movies were a quarter and a gallon of gas was 15 cents. I don’t really learn anything. Then it’s more of a “Huh.”

So I tried and my staff tried really hard to say: “OK. What are the stories that come from our past that are true and authentic and might be inspiring because they involve people whose names you’ve heard? How can we pull that line through time so it imparts a lesson that is valuable to you today, even if it’s not something you would do in a shoe?” I’ll give you an example. The Air franchise clearly is one of the pinnacles of Nike. I mean, Air is everything since forever—well, not since forever, but since 1978. The Tailwind was the first shoe to incorporate Nike Air, and it was tested and tested and tested and tested because, again, you know footwear. There’s the way you inject hot molds, and to try to put a small plastic air bag in the heel when you’re putting in hot Phylon around it or whatever—it perturbs. They pop. They spent a good 18 months figuring out: How do you essentially remanufacture shoes so that you can put a tiny air bag in the heel?

So all that work’s going on. They’ve got a secret building. They’ve got code names. It’s top, top secret, and they finally figure it out. They’re getting ready to launch the Tailwind in December 1980 at the Honolulu Marathon, just 400 pairs, and at the very last minute, someone in the marketing department—no one will claim who was responsible for this, but somebody—decided the color is wrong. They should change the color. So there was an edict sent out saying, “Change the color.” They chose some paint for the color, but it was metallic silver, and it literally had tiny little shreds or shards of silver in it. Well, little tiny shards of silver on mesh over time abrade the mesh, and so those early Nike Air shoes would come apart. The mesh would come apart. The air bag worked just fine, but the terminology in the footwear industry, especially back then, when you have a shoe fall apart—that was called a blowout or something like that. So the connotation there was: “Oh, a blowout. The air bag blew out.” It was one tiny little change. It probably wouldn’t have canceled Air, but it would have set it back quite a ways, and it would have been bad publicity.

So the lesson from all that, and this I got from Jeff Johnson—his lesson was, “Test everything.” Even a paint color change can have an impact. Even though that happened in 1978, the “test everything” lesson is just as relevant today, especially when you can tell current designers, “Yeah, even something you would never think could essentially sink a product.” And it happened to Jeff Johnson, and it happened to the Tailwind. Those are the stories that I really gravitate toward, because otherwise it’s just history lessons, which—again, there’s a time for that, and it’s fine to tell a history lesson, but if you really want to make your department and your assets valuable to the company, you’ve got to show how they impact and potentially even impact the bottom line. That’s a lot harder to do, right? I mean, designers can come to the archives department, and they can spend three days poring over the first 30 Pegasus shoes, and one of them gets an epiphany for Pegasus 42 or 43 or whatever we’re up to now and it sells twice as many as anything else. I can’t really, as the historian, go to the CEO and say: “You’re welcome. We helped inspire that designer. You made an extra $500,000 or whatever. Give me more money.” It’s so much a part of the process, but I can’t just say, “That was us.” Anything that we could do that would reinforce the value of the company, even training new people—we worked with the learning and development departments, so we helped them infuse their employee onboarding with interesting stories. We would help them get speakers, or I would speak, or different people would speak, just to get people right off the bat to know that they’re working for a company that values its heritage and values its culture. Who doesn’t want to be a part of that?

EN: Yeah, for sure. I think you really hit it on the head there when you were talking about reinforcing that value, the cultural value. I’ve often found those timeless truth stories that you just mentioned: “Test everything.” These are great rallying cries and great ways to create community at large organizations like Nike. Just wrapping up, any thoughts or anything you’d like to share? Thinking about the future, where do you see the Nike archives continuing to contribute to Nike moving forward?

SR: Well, I hope—and there was some movement toward this. I don’t think it’s happened yet, but what I hope is that the archive team will be allowed to interact directly with the outside world. I was not. Any time we would get an inquiry from the media or anyone outside, even academics, academia, I would have to get a hold of Nike communications and Nike legal depending on what the request was, and not all of the requests were approved. And so I would actually be frustrated, because I’m like, “I could have answered that question in five minutes,” and they’re like, “Well, we don’t want to do this.” “Why?” “Well, it’s a lot of time and effort.” I’m like, “No, it’s five minutes.” So we didn’t have the freedom to do it—and rightly so. I mean, I don’t want to go talk to somebody at USA Today, let’s say, and say something, and then find out that the PR department have been working on an exclusive with The Wall Street Journal and now I’ve just blown it for them.

So I understand the need to have a cohesive strategic effort, but there are so many things—and I’ve learned that with my with my LinkedIn, right? I mean, that literally was just—one day I was frustrated. It might have been the swoosh and the name Nike again being told incorrectly, and I just sat at my desk at my computer, and I just pounded out, “No, here’s how it actually happened.” And I got a bunch of likes, and I got a bunch of shares, and I got a bunch of friend requests or whatever they’re called—LinkedIn requests. So in the future, that’s where I hope DNA can go. They still have the same number of staff that I had when I left, so that’s good, because there have been some cutbacks, and they’ve been untouched on the curation and storytelling side. I hope that means that Nike continues to value what they’re doing.

I do think the 50th anniversary, the advertising that was done, the product that was brought back and created showed some deep fingerprints from the DNA team on it. And just from what my old staff have told me about how crazy busy they are now, because everybody knows what they can deliver—the harder part is when you can inspire or infuse and interweave the history into things moving forward, like new building designs on the Nike campus or new marketing things that are culturally anchored, right, but are still relevant and interesting to a 23-year-old or 21-year-old in 2027. Basically, people born in the 21st century now are Nike’s target audience, not old farts like me. So I’m thrilled that there are so many people now on my staff, and we specialized, so we had one person working on basketball and a couple other smaller sports, just because you cannot be an expert on everything.

EN: Yeah, that’s true. You can’t be an expert on everything, but now more than ever, knowledge is cultural currency, so I wholeheartedly support the push to have the DNA staff more directly in connection with external fans. Thank you so much for your time today, Scott. It was great. It was just amazing. Thank you.

SR: My pleasure.

JD: Thanks again to Scott Reames and Erin Narloch. Great stuff. Thanks so much for listening to the new History Factory Podcast, the podcast at the intersection of business and history. I’m Jason Dressel. Be well.

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