Turns out, Phil Knight* is an Adidas guy
*The guy who played Phil Knight on Winning Time, that is. The I-5 Corridor catches up with Olli Haaskivi about playing the Nike co-founder on HBO's Showtime Lakers hit.
Olli Haaskivi reckons he never wore Nikes until he showed up on set of HBO’s new show, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.
The 35-year-old actor is an Adidas guy. His father, Kai Haaskivi, was a Finnish player in the North American Soccer League. The family devoutly lived the Three Stripe life.
“My dad was sponsored by Adidas,” Haaskivi told The I-5 Corridor. “I was sort of forbidden as a child from wearing, liking or in any way engaging with Nike as a brand. I still wear Adidas shoes and things like that.”
But getting a shot to play Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, was just too good to pass up.
See, Haaskivi is a grinder. He lives in New York now, but he was born in Cleveland and caught the acting bug early. For better or worse, he said, he’s turned a career out of being vaguely recognized on the streets for his roles on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Manifest and more.
“It’s becoming one of those careers where people stop me a lot and ask if we went to summer camp together,” he said.
His appearance on Winning Time wasn’t a starring role — his shooting schedule lasted just one morning — but it was notable. With a loaded cast playing some of the biggest stars in sports history, Haaskivi got to play the guy who ends up being more powerful than all of them. He read Knight’s autobiography, Shoe Dog, to prepare and paged through highlighted pages between takes. He spent more time in wig fittings than actually on set.
Some cameo roles you punch in and out of a bit, Haaskivi said. This wasn’t one of them.
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“The lucky thing is that the writing tells you everything you need to know,” he said. “The scene makes it very clear what the stakes were for him. You could feel reading the scene his desperation and his creativity and his sense of humor and the feeling that’s it’ really an uphill sprint in trying to get Magic Johnson to come on board.
“I felt really lucky when preparing for it that I couldn’t find any footage of him in 1979, at the age we meet him in the show. There wasn’t really anyone for me to impersonate or mimic. I got to have all of this material, but I really got to use my imagination and try to — I imagine everyone feels like they’re trying to capture the essence more than doing a literal impersonation of something.”
In the show — and in real life — Johnson turns down Knight’s Nike endorsement deal in favor of Converse. The show claims the Nike deal, heavy in company stock, would have been worth around $5.2 billion today.
“I was 19 years old, just won that national championship after beating Larry Bird and I was about to sign a shoe deal,” the real Johnson said in a 2019 interview with Yahoo! Finance. “Converse came in and everyone at that time was wearing Converse because of Dr. J. So, Converse came in and offered me some money. And then this guy Phil Knight came in, and Nike was only like one or two years old. He said he didn’t have a lot of money, but will offer me stock. I was 19, didn’t know a lot. And so the rest is history.”
Knight got the last laugh there. And here, too, because remember those Nikes Haaskivi wore on set?
“They were really comfortable,” he said. “They were great.”
— Tyson Alger