University of Oregon pulls out all the stops for Phil Knight's night

University of Oregon pulls out all the stops for Phil Knight's night
The University of Oregon gave away bobblehead dolls of Nike Inc. Chairman Phil Knight at Saturday night's men's basketball game.

EUGENE, Ore. -- They came for the bobbleheads. And they came to celebrate Phil Knight.

The University of Oregon hosted a tribute and birthday celebration for the Nike co-founder on Saturday night at a men's basketball game against the University of Southern California.

A near-capacity crowd packed Matthew Knight Arena for the event, which featured Phil Knight bobbleheads for all in attendance, video tributes from faculty, administrators and students and a giant birthday card.

The crowd even sang "Happy Birthday" to Knight.

"It's a very big deal for me," Knight said. "It's a thrill. It's not many times you have 12,000 people sing you 'Happy Birthday.' It's a wonderful day."

Knight turns 76 this month.

Students who otherwise would have made other plans attended the event to honor Knight (and get the free bobblehead).

"I love it, I'm so excited to put it on my desk," said Crysta Miller, a sophomore business major.

Miller said the tribute was the deciding factor in whether to attend the game.

Before the game, the university's alumni association gathered at the nearby Ford Alumni Center.

Several members praised Knight's support for the university. He is the most generous philanthropist in the university's history.

Knight's gifts include $25 million to the law school, $27.4 million to the library and $100 million to the athletic department. He also funded the new $68 million football training facility.

"You and (wife) Penny have helped us in so many ways, from our exception athletic programs to our world class (academic programs), said University of Oregon President Michael Gottfredson, in a video tribute played during the second half. "We appreciate you and your contributions to the entire university. Thank you. Happy birthday. And go Ducks."

The tributes recorded by Gottfredson and other campus leaders will be posted on the university's YouTube channel on Monday.

"It's been spectacular for the University of Oregon, not only his gifts, but his inspiration," said Tom Roberts, a longtime alumni association member.

Many pointed out that while Knight's gifts to the university's athletics department are visible, his gifts to the academic side of the university are equally as valued.

"He doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what he does on the academic side," said Molly Morgan, a second-generation alum who holds two degrees from the university.

Video tributes from faculty played during the game included professors in subjects as varied as law and art history.

When Jeremy Strober attended the university in the early '90s, the only visible sign of Knight's support was the Knight Library.

"The changes are not just in the athletic buildings, but certainly in the athletic buildings," said Strober, who lives in Pacific City.

The Knight Library is still popular with students, said Jessica Baumgartner, a freshman biology major.

"I love Uncle Phil," she said. "We're lucky to have him."

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