Winning Time's Olli Haaskivi shares what it was like to play Nike's co-founder, Phil Knight

Olli Haaskivi headshot
Olli Haaskivi is Phil Knight in Winning Time (Image credit: LUNA)

In episode 6 of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, fans got to see Olli Haaskivi debut as Nike co-founder Phil Knight. In one of the most remarkable moments of the episode, the Floridian-by-way-of-Ohio steps onto the scene in a powder blue suit with a spectacular wig and, as Phil Knight, offers Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) the greatest business deal Johnson has ever passed on in his career. While Haaskivi’s character wasn’t on screen for long, he most certainly made a splash on the hit HBO series. 

In an exclusive interview one-on-one with Olli Haaskivi the actor gives What to Watch the scoop on how he prepared to play Knight. He also talks about his role in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film Oppenheimer and his part in the Peacock reboot of Queer as Folk.

Olli Haaskivi on playing Winning Time's Phil Knight

Rivaling the shock value of Magic Johnson leaving the Nike deal on the table in Winning Time episode 6 was the wig and wardrobe that Haaskivi wore to transform into Knight. When asked about his metamorphosis into the Nike co-founder circa 1979,  the actor had this to say:

"It was a blast to transform into Phil Knight. I felt really lucky that there’s a lot of information about Phil Knight. He wrote an autobiography. On YouTube, there’s a lot of him giving commencement addresses and interviews. But I couldn’t find any footage of him at the age he was at the moment we meet him in Winning Time. So it was actually pretty freeing because I felt like I got the best of both worlds.

He’s a very well-documented person in the world now, but I didn’t feel like I had to do any imitation or mimicry… I got this amazing autobiography that told me about his frame of mind and the things he cares about and I could just kind of take that and run with it but not have the pressure of 'well we know exactly what he walked like in 1979' or 'well we know exactly what he talked like.'"

Olli Haaskivi as Phil Knight in Winning Time

(Image credit: HBO)

Haaskivi was all smiles talking about the wig and wardrobe viewers saw him in. Prior to his first day of filming, Julianne Nicholson (Cranny McKinney in the series) reached out to give him a heads up about the wig he would be wearing to play Phil Knight. 

Haaskivi jokingly says, "I probably spent more time doing wig fittings than I spent shooting the actual show." He also says, "Wardrobe and the wig go such a long way in making that character. I thought all the departments did extraordinary work in putting that together." Extraordinary work indeed. 

Despite the positive reviews Haaskivi’s received for his role in Winning Time, one person he hasn’t heard from yet is the real Phil Knight. However, Haaskivi hopes the business tycoon watches the episode and "doesn’t want to murder" him. After the laughter subsided, he went on to say, "But I do hope he can feel through the screen my incredible respect and adoration for what he has done in his life and his incredible tenacity and determination." 

His knowledge of the Showtime Lakers 

Winning Time HBO

(Image credit: Warrick Page/HBO)

Since he is a true millennial — born in 1986 — Haaskivi was unable to experience the Showtime Lakers firsthand in a meaningful way. However, as someone that’s not a novice to American sports culture, he certainly knew the names of all the famous players like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar before he started filming. 

To help him gain a better understanding of the huge impact this team had on basketball and the celebrity culture of the 1980s, he read the inspiration for Winning Time, Jeff Pearlman’s Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s

After reading the book and watching some of the season 1 episodes, the University of Michigan grad mentions that the most surprising thing was that he didn’t realize was how young the players were back then. It's a good point — it's hard to believe that the Lakers, of that era, built an extraordinary NBA dynasty with some players — Magic Johnson specifically — still teenagers (19/20 years old) at the time. 

Upcoming Olli Haaskivi projects 

The cast of Queer as Folk (2000).

(Image credit: SHOWTIME)

With his portrayal of Phil Knight in the rearview mirror for now, Haaskivi is looking forward to some exciting projects. For starters, he’ll be appearing in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. He’ll be starring opposite Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt and more, as the Tenet director explores the story of  J. Robert Oppenheimer and his part in developing the atomic bomb. 

Although we tried everything short of bribery to get more details about the film and his role, Haaskivi only concedes that the project is, "thrilling, it’s unbelievably exciting." We also know he and the cast are having a good time shooting the project. 

Also in the pipeline, for the actor, is the Peacock reboot of Russell T. Davies' (Doctor Who, It's a Sin) British series Queer as Folk. While Haaskivi was again pretty tightlipped about the forthcoming series, he says:

"The scripts are really beautiful, it’s an amazing cast… I really love Jaclyn Moore and Stephen Dunn, the two showrunners. I think they are making a really incredible show."

Check out Olli Haaskivi as Phil Knight in Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty season 1 episode 6, now streaming on HBO Max (US) and Sky TV (UK).  

Terrell Smith

Terrell Smith has a diverse writing background having penned material for a wide array of clients including the federal government and Bravo television personalities.  When he’s not writing as Terrell, he’s writing under his pseudonym Tavion Scott, creating scripts for his audio drama podcasts. Terrell is a huge fan of great storytelling when it comes to television and film. Some of his favorite shows include The CrownWandaVision, Abbot Elementary and Godfather of HarlemAnd a fun fact is he's completely dialed into the TLC 90 Day Fiancé universe.