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Nike defends Tiger Woods endorsement deal

Phil Knight did not tell Nike shareholders Monday whether he paid Tiger Woods $100 million for his latest endorsement contract. Knight did say Woods is "worth it."

The chairman and co-founder of the largest athletic shoe maker in the world, responding to written questions from the audience at the annual shareholder meeting, was asked whether the money could have been better spent.

"No, it couldn't," Knight told the large crowd gathered at Memorial Coliseum, the former home of the Portland Trail Blazers.

It has been widely reported that Woods' latest contract with Nike is worth $100 million.

Flanked by twin jumbo screens hanging from the high ceiling, Knight mixed business with humor, sports and the Olympics, greeting the audience with a hearty, "G'day, mates."

The bearded, red-haired billionaire was dressed in a dark suit but wore white Nike athletic shoes that stood out from the more traditional business footwear sported by his board of directors, including former Georgetown coach John Thompson.

Knight admitted it was a year with little growth, most of it international, and he admitted Nike's stock prices had swung "all over the place."

The giant screens flashed sports highlights that featured Woods and other celebrity athletes on the Nike endorsement list, including tennis stars Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras; slugger Ken Griffey Jr.; Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong; and Olympic sprinter Marion Jones.

Still, the Beaverton-based company that roughly tripled its sales from about $3 billion in 1995 to more than $9 billion in 1998 has stalled at that level for the past two years.

Knight also said the company was "very excited" about a $30 million endorsement deal with Toronto Raptors forward Vince Carter, an NBA rookie of the year some consider the potential successor to Michael Jordan as basketball's top star.

Tiger Woods - Worth $20m a year ?Allsport

Knight, however, was careful about distinguishing Carter from Jordan, now a Nike executive with his own line of shoes and clothing.

"This is not the next Michael Jordan," Knight told shareholders in response to a question from the audience about Carter signing with Nike last Saturday.

"There's only one Michael Jordan. But I do think Vince Carter has a chance to be the most exciting player currently in the NBA," Knight said.

The meeting also featured live and taped tributes to Bill Bowerman, the University

of Oregon track coach who became Knight's mentor and co-founder of a company built around his early designs, including the legendary running shoe made with the help of his wife's waffle iron.

Bowerman died last December at age of 88.



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