Recommended: Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty on HBO
What's Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty About?
A fictional account based on true events, Winning Time chronicles the rise of the Los Angeles Lakers dynasty after the NBA team was bought in 1979 by Dr. Jerry Buss.
Screenwriter Jim Hecht optioned all-star sportswriter Jeff Pearlman’s book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty in 2014, only to be stonewalled by the Lakers and turned down all across L.A. Then he found an ally who worked for Adam McKay, the writer-director of Vice, The Big Short and this year’s Oscar contender Don’t Look Up. McKay bought the series from Hecht and co-creator Max Borenstein, and the result — renamed Winning Time, since Showtime is HBO’s rival — is a big, sprawling enterprise, with an exuberant Seventies vibe and deep dives into all the major players in Lakers World, plus the usual McKay touches (explanatory graphics, fourth-wall breaking, etc.).
John C. Reilly is the glue that holds Winning Time together. The go-to comedic actor plays Dr. Jerry Buss, who put his real estate empire on the line to buy the Lakers, then drafted Earvin “Magic” Johnson when those around him were urging him to pick a white player. Speaking of picks, McKay’s decision to cast Reilly in the role over his longtime collaborator Will Ferrell drove a wedge into their friendship, but it seems he made the right call. It’s hard to imagine Ferrell matching Reilly’s outsized, uncouth performance as the Lakers owner.
Quincy Isaiah plays Magic Johnson. He was the one casting choice that everyone agrees McKay couldn’t afford to screw up, and he didn’t: Isaiah, a newcomer to acting, is totally convincing as the college baller who blossoms into a world celebrity as a Laker, though not without quite a few bumps along the way.
Wait, we’re just getting started: Jason Clarke plays Jerry West, the NBA legend who won six titles as the Lakers’ general manager yet remained an extremely tortured man. Solomon Hughes is reasonably persuasive as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers’ biggest star pre-Magic. Sally Field gets to chew up the screen as Jerry Buss’ aging mom, while Hadley Robinson is great as Jeannie Buss, Jerry’s daughter, whose education in how to run the Lakers (which she now does) is chronicled here. And Michael Chiklis gets to play Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach, how great is that?
There are also solid performances by Tamera Tomakili as Magic’s Michigan girlfriend Cookie, Sean Patrick Small going full “hick from French Lick” as Larry Bird, Adrien Brody as the master motivator Pat Riley, Spencer Garrett as legendary announcer Chick Hearn, LisaGay Hamilton as Magic’s mom … and then there are all the doppelgängers for Lakers faithful: Debbie Allen, Jack Nicholson, Richard Pryor, Dyan Cannon, Paula Abdul and more.
Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?
There are few events in sporting history that everyone should know about, whether they like sports or not, and the Magic Johnson era with the Lakers is one of them. Pro basketball was in a serious slump in the 1970s, with on-court fistfights, racial issues and a general lack of pizzazz. Magic and the Lakers fixed all that and transformed sports in the public’s eye from just a game into show business. You’ll see how in this colorful, explosive, thoroughly entertaining series. Every year of the Lakers era had enough plot twists to tantalize any screenwriter, and Winning Time — shot in muted colors like archival video from the early Reagan years — has the potential for a long run on HBO. McKay’s team has gotten the cold shoulder from the NBA, the Lakers organization and nearly every Lakers great of the past 40 years. But if the public’s reception of Winning Time matches the critical buzz, resistance to this series inside Lakers World will surely crumble. After all, L.A. loves a winner.
Pairs well with
TOPICS: Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, HBO, Adrien Brody, DeVaughn Nixon , Gaby Hoffmann, Hadley Robinson, Jason Clarke, Jim Hecht, John C. Reilly, Max Borenstein, Michael Chiklis, Quincy Isaiah, Sally Field, Solomon Hughes