Recycling Program Turns Old Shoes Into New Inner City Playground

ON a gray fall morning, Nike president Tom Clarke ascends to an outdoor podium and faces a schoolyard of mostly black school children.

When Mr. Clarke asks for volunteers to donate old shoes to be recycled, out trots home-run hitter Ken Griffey Jr. holding a pair of worn-out Nikes.

This is part of a Nike program called PLAY -- Participate in the Lives of America's Youth -- launched last year. As part of the program, Nike collects old sneakers, recycles them, and uses the materials to resurface inner city hardtop courts.

The PLAY program illustrates how Nike is trying to broaden its image beyond the big-name, high-salaried sports stars it hires to sell shoes.

'I want to talk about a few things,'' Mr. Griffey says in a quiet tone, turning the applause into hushed attentiveness. ''Goals. Dreams,'' he continues.

''I had a dream, and that was to go out and play Major League baseball. That's what this basketball court is for -- your dreams, whatever they are,'' he says. ''It's important to do the things you want.''

ON this day, Griffey, decked out in Nike gear, plays basketball with some of the kids. He doesn't let them quit until they score off him.

Later, during a question and answer session, one child asks innocently, ''Do you think you're good at baseball?''

''I try to be,'' the slugger responds.

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