BO JACKSON was probably the best natural athlete I ever met. Considering MJ, Gretsky, Magic, Shaq, and a few others, that’s saying a lot. Riswold called me telling me that we were doing a campaign for cross training sneakers using Bo. I told him that was risky since Bo hadn’t done anything professionally at that time. No matter, Jim, as usual, was right. We went to Kansas to film him. He was playing for the Kansas City Royals at the time and had a tiny break after spring training. We were shooting cycling, running, and a couple of others. We met Bo and my heart sank because he had a speech impediment and the spots turned on him saying the phrase, “Another day, another hobby…” I called Jim aside and asked what our options were. He said that we didn’t have any options, that’s what he sold and that’s what we’d bring back. Oh well.
The first spot was the ‘running’ commercial. We filmed him running in various areas around Kansas City and then came the moment of truth, the dialogue. Nike was cheap as hell in those days and the company was in some trouble. This shoe was there to save it. To save on costs, I had the video playback guy do the sound as well. We were shooting from the bed of a pickup and we rolled and Bo magically delivered the line perfectly. My heart leaped, but the sound guy yelled, we weren’t rolling. Take two. Another perfect reading. The sound guy said there was too much exhaust noise. The exhaust pipe was directly under the camera. We move the camera. Take three. Perfect, but, of course, Bo thought we were dorks.
Then came the BO KNOWS campaign. The storyboards had the various other athletes saying, “Bo knows…” against a gray no seam background. Very Irving Penn. I thought that was dumb.
“You have to go where they are anyway, just have them doing what they do. It will make the sport more authentic.”
We went to the various places to shoot them and in Kansas City, Bo knocked me on my ass in the football sequence. I was operating the camera from the point of view of a linebacker and Bo was missing the lens by a bit, take after take. I told him to aim right for the lens. I was (am) impetuous and stupid so I didn’t have any protection, thinking he would pull up just before he hit but I guess memories of the pickup truck stupidity went though his mind and he blasted me. After the agency guys stopped cheering, I got up and looked at my beautiful Arri BL with a smashed Zeiss fifty mm lens and a damaged housing. Contrary to gossip, my nose wasn’t broken and I didn’t bleed that much.
In another scene (basketball) I needed some sweat on Bo for a closeup. Wendy Keller was doing both wardrobe and makeup (Nike still wasn’t making any money). Wendy started to apply oil to Bo’s thighs and she was reaching into his shorts.
“Wendy, it’s a closeup of his face.”
“Joe, you do your job and I’ll do mine.”
We shot the baseball sequence on a Friday night after football practice and Bo had a great deal of trouble hitting the ball. The pitcher was just serving it up slowly and Bo could not connect. His timing was completely off. The hundred or so extras began to boo. Bo started to seethe. He finally connected and the crowd cheered as if it were a game winning home run. I was concerned that he pulled a muscle or something since he wasn’t in baseball shape, being in the middle of football season. I turned on the game Sunday and it was the second quarter and he had already run for two long touchdowns and had a hundred and fifty rushing yards. I guess he was okay.
The BO KNOWS spot saved Nike by establishing the cross trainer shoe. It ran on the All Star Baseball Game and Bo was named Most Valuable Player. Wow!
Bo broke his hip playing football and everyone thought he was over but he went into rehab and made a short-lived comeback in baseball. Of course, Nike took advantage of this by doing some commercials introducing Denis Leary with Bo. Riswold must have spent his life watching television for obscure stuff. I had never heard of Leary but he became a huge star after these commercials ran.
Eventually Bo had to retire into legend. Nike screwed him over taking his name from the building they named for him. Bo took his awards and Heisman trophy from the place. I never got to know the true story but it was a sad thing. I heard a rumor that they got back together years later but I’m not sure.
The world had never seen anything like him and never will again.