Mike Van Linda on Kai Lenny, the Hartford Whalers and His Recent Work for Adidas

Plus, a look back at ESPN's 'Without Sports'

Mike Van Linda is group creative director at Wolfgang L.A., a creative consultancy and agency, which recently produced its first work for Adidas.

Van Linda's years of experience in the industry includes stints at 72andSunny, 180LA, Deutsch LA, David&Goliath, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, The Martin Agency and RPA. He has worked with numerous sports brands, including ASICS (180LA), NBA 2K12 (72andSunny), Kia/NBA (David&Goliath), Mammoth Mountain (D&G), DirecTV/NFL Sunday Ticket (Deutsch LA) and Specialized Bicycles (GS&P)

We spoke to Van Linda for our Time-Out interview series, where we chat with folks in the sports world about their favorite athletes, teams, movies and shows, and their love of sports generally.


Mike, tell us ... 

Your earliest sports memory.

The first pitch of my first-ever Little League at-bat. Took a fastball right to the face. That one stung ... still does.

Your favorite sports teams.

The Hartford Whalers, or "The Whale" as they were known (they're a former NHL team). They left Hartford in '97, but they're in my heart forever. The Whalers weren't a very good team, but their branding was tight. The "Whale Tail" remains one of the cooler logos in all of sports. And "Brass Bonanza" is the greatest theme song of all time, hands-down. No debate. The last Whalers game I attended, we got scored on by the opposing team's goalie.

Also, I might lose a friend if I failed to mention Palmeiras, my adopted pro soccer team from São Paulo, Brazil (shout-out to my guy, Tatu!).

Your favorite athlete.

Being an ocean lover, I admire water athletes. Big wave surfers, pro surfers, free-surfers, kite-surfers, windsurfers, wing-surfers, paddlers, etc. Out of everyone, there's one guy who stands apart: Kai Lenny. He harnesses Mother Nature's most extreme moments and comes away with a beautiful ride that defies all logic. He's not just one thing, he's equally skilled at five sports. His versatility means he can embrace all types of ocean conditions, which is huge when you play on a "field" that's constantly changing. He's the most impressive ocean athlete I've ever seen. A true waterman. 

When I go surfing, the best possible outcome is not being featured on @kookslams.

If coaches count, I have to include John Wooden. He was the Dalai Lama of sports. I try to channel his philosophies into everything I do.

Oh, and Mookie Betts. My son's favorite player. Love that guy.

Your favorite sports show or podcast.

More than any one particular show, I follow certain journalists. Folks like Jackie MacMullan, Charlotte Wilder, Bill Simmons, my Uncle Glenn (not a journalist, just very opinionated). Oh, and there's always ESPN8 "The Ocho."

Your favorite sports movie or video game.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.

A recent project you're proud of.

We (the Wolfgang team) just finished our first project for Adidas. We helped launch the new Climacool shoe. Honestly, my involvement was minimal as the project was already underway when I arrived. But my creative partner and I helped shepherd it through production (during Covid). The work turned out beautiful, despite the curveball.

Someone else's project that you admired recently.

It's an oldie, but ESPN's "Without Sports" campaign has been on my mind a ton recently (for obvious reasons). I loved that campaign, still do. Though I preferred it as a hypothetical, and not reality.

What you love about sports generally.

Oh God, there are too many reasons to count. Our team at Wolfgang is made up of folks from all corners of the globe—from SoCal to São Paulo to South Africa. And many of us are sports-heads. On today's status call, we talked about the Johnsonville Cornhole Championship for 20 straight minutes. Was Jamie Graham robbed? Is Matthew Morton for real? I don't know where I was going with this. I guess I love how sports are a place where people find common ground. 

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the sports/agency world.

Easy, I'd be an oyster farmer on Cape Cod. Out on the water all day, listening to sports on the radio the entire time.

Time-Out is our new interview series where we chat with folks in the sports world about their creative inspirations, their favorite athletes, teams, sports movies and more, and generally what sport means to them. For more about Time-Out, and our Clio Sports program, please contact Shawn Mosby.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards and founding editor of Muse by Clio. Prior to joining Clio in 2018, he was creative editor at Adweek.

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