Arts / Athletics

HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers dynasty is a slam dunk 

Disclaimer: This show is rated TV-MA due to nudity and explicit language. Viewer discretion is advised.

HBO’s new drama Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty follows the personal and professional lives of the Los Angeles Lakers as their program is reimagined, revived, and reinvented amid the glitz and glamor of the 1980s. With its ensemble cast including John C. Reilly, Jason Clarke, and Sally Field, alongside award-winning producer Adam McKay, this series was born to be showstopping. 

It’s 1979, and the Los Angeles Lakers are the laughing stock of the NBA, one of the least popular sports leagues. Enter Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly): a charismatic, vulgar, controversial playboy and businessman with a vision to transform the lackluster Lakers into a championship-winning team. His first step: draft the young Earvin “Magic” Johnson (Quincy Isaiah). 

I admit — my basketball knowledge is limited, and I was hesitant to start Winning Time. However, even I quickly became enthralled. The show is unconventional in a way as excessively extravagant as the ’80s. Its quick pace, long list of characters, breaking of the fourth wall, and uncomfortably graphically sexual scenes keep viewers on their toes. It’s showy, quirky, and sometimes confusing but in a manner that captivates and excites like none other. 

Of course, the show revolves around basketball, but much of the plot occurs off the court, making it appealing to an audience beyond sports fans. Viewers get a glimpse into the complex personal struggles of famous players and figures. It’s more a behind-the-scenes look at the L.A. Lakers than it is about their playing time. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, for example, always seemed unshakeable in games, but Winning Time reveals his crisis of faith due to the extreme racism he experiences and witnesses. However, the show is a dramatization of actual events, so it isn’t always clear what’s fact or fiction. 

Arguably, where the show is most controversial is its portrayal of women. Jerry Buss was a playboy, after all, and Magic Johnson a known womanizer, so there is no shortage of sexuality. Many of the women in the show seem to represent the culmination of a man’s oversexed fantasies. While some may think the writers glamorize womanizing and other problematic antics, I think they subtly condemn attitudes towards women in that era. 

Winning Time also acknowledges the racism of the time through the competition between Larry Bird, a white Boston Celtic, and Magic Johnson, a Black L.A. Laker: the two most exciting rookies of the 1979-1980 NBA season. The show points out the discrepancies in the press’s portrayal of Bird and Magic: Bird is deemed “hard-working,” “disciplined,” and an “all-American boy,” whereas Magic is a “physical specimen.” Magic often finds himself in Bird’s shadow, despite their equal skill levels and Magic’s greater likeability. He struggles to earn the same recognition and respect Bird receives from fans and the media. 

Despite many of the actors having little experience, all of them are well cast and convincing in their roles. I wouldn’t be surprised if several received award nominations for their performances. 

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