HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of The Lakers Dynasty takes some liberties in telling the tales of Dr. Jerry Buss’s Los Angeles takeover. The exaggerations of the show are features and not the bugs some critics are suggesting. If you want something closer to the real truth with less hyperbole check out Jeff Pearlman’s book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.
We all have to lie to ourselves. No? To deny that is a losing mentality. We are just telling a different form of the truth, sometimes getting reality out of order. It’s easier to get by in life if you can just move on from the past and get on to more important matters. The truth is in the experience. And it helps to have rocket-launching riches at your disposal if you do have to move things around a bit.
And that’s how we got the Los Angeles Lakers we know today. Don’t believe me? Watch Winning Time. John C. Riley as Buss is exceptional in carrying the narrative. The stories might be stretched a bit, but none more than Dr. Jerry Buss’s money was in trying to get Showtime off the ground.
Still don’t believe me? Look at Jerry West. He was too stuck in his own ways, dwelling on the failings of his younger self while visualizing a future he was actively fighting–including Magic’s smile. It’s the most undeniable, unquestionable trait Earvin Johnson ever possessed. Jerry thought it was a sign he was too nice, even after an NCAA championship over Larry Bird. West became the kind of man who bitched about things that made his life easier–even while on one of the most expensive, luxurious golf courses in L.A.
West came around to acceptance eventually. As he explained in his memoir,
“I think most people would agree on this: there are certain events that are important in your life and can do damage to it. Life-changing events. And I’ve had some of those, and, unfortunately, they happened to me when I was young. But that, perhaps more than anything else, formed much of the crucible of who I am, and almost certainly made me into the determined person and sick competitor that I became, a tormented, defiant figure who carries an angry, emotional chip on his shoulder and has a hole in his heart that nothing can ultimately fill.”
West thought Magic smiled a lot so he would be liked. In fact, Johnson was loved by all because he smiled for himself. Quincy Isaiah is getting the same treatment playing Magic. Isaiah is from Michigan, just like Magic. This is also his first appearance on screen, just naturally flowing through Hollywood like it owes him a—well—recommendation for a good church. His mom and girl might be reading.
Winning Time rounded out the roster (cast) better than Red Auerbach or John Wooden. They recruited DeVaughn Nixon to play his own dad, which, getting to do all his father’s mannerism and get away with it…every son’s dream, I imagine. Jason Clarke is exceptional playing a big yet broken Jerry West. Gabby Hoffman (playing Claire Rothman) can be a boss in any role, any era. Hadley Robinson is ready to break out some innovative ideas as the boss’ daught–I mean Jeannie Buss. Sorry. Won’t make the mistake again. (Spoiler Alert: Jeannie gets the team eventually).
Riley and Isaiah get both each other and the characters. They understand Buss was all about the spectacle and putting on an event. And Winning. That’s where Magic’s entertaining feats on the court came in and Earvin understood the assignment. Sell tickets and win titles. That’s the job. Just do your job. You’re not an accountant, don’t worry about the books.
The job of Winning Time is not to break down old basketball. This aims for a different kind of nostalgia. It’s a look at the lifestyle, much like a Mad Men-esque period piece. You didn’t just watch that for the old commercials, did you? We will get to some championship basketball though. Larry Bird flies in for Episode seven.
But let’s not get ahead of the viewing public. After three episodes we finally got to meet Pat Riley (played by Adrien Brody), which brought the most somber scenes in the first three hours. Well, unless you include the Mafia hit on Victor Weiss after meeting Dr. Buss and UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian.
Pat Riley was not even let in the building as a former player with a ring. That’s been all but forgotten as Winning Time tells its own history. Brody sums up Riley and the situation perfectly, “In my research, it was clear that Pat and Chris (Rodstrom, played by Jacobs), Pat’s wife, had to really come to terms with the loss, the sense of loss of the end of his ball-playing career. At that point in his life, he had committed so much to the sport already and they had to treat it as if they were in mourning.
“I can understand that and relate to that and I think there are times in our lives where we know we have so much more to give and for whatever reason, the meaningful connection to a material or the sport or whatever it is that we do are far less accessible. You have to endure those times; you have to figure out creatively how to make it happen.
“And then there’s the potential that it may not happen and that is very heavy. … It is the phase, it is the moment, it’s actually not even a fun moment to play, it’s not something exciting. It’s something to endure and relate to. And it’s a responsibility more than the glory of being out there and kicking ass.”
“See. Even if we have to lie to get to the truth, we have to push through. Own your truth and kick ass. In basketball as in life, every day you get to wake up is fucking Showtime.” –Dr. Jerry Buss
Catch up with Winning TIme and tune in for the second half.