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HBO’s Winning Time Makes a Victorious First Impression

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The first episode of “Winning Time” on HBO was very promising.
The new 10-episode series, which is billed as an insider’s view of the 1980s Lakers dynasty and NBA Finals appearances, already should have viewers looking forward to the second installment.

While the series does add in some fictional twists, there are a lot of supposed truths that are featured, despite a lack of reported involvement from those portrayed. 

ATTENTION: Episode One spoilers ahead for “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.”

We are not going to do an episode rundown here, as you may easily find that elsewhere. This is more of a compilation of highlights on what made the first episode so compelling and has us wanting more.

It was a nifty blend of historical perspectives, strong personas, and some good comedy to boot. 

HBO’s Winning Time: Episode One Was A Strong Tip-Off

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West Won’t Be Happy

Photo: The Daily Beast

While Jerry Buss and Earvin “Magic” Johnson were the clear focal points of the debut episode and will be throughout the series, two other prominent players made strong initial impressions that may not be taken too well by those they portrayed. Published reports have indicated that several of the key players in this series and the Lakers themselves have not been supportive of the project. 

Jason Clarke is a complete scene-stealer as Lakers legend Jerry West. He positions West as a completely frustrated and foul-mouthed NBA purist. Clarke’s tantrums seem to be meant to not only display West’s intensity and the effect of lingering disappointments during his heavily successful career, but they also make for some good chuckles. Watching his 1969 NBA Finals MVP trophy take constant abuse and seeing him unleash anger as the actual NBA logo were some of the best offbeat moments of the episode. There have been some criticisms about how West is represented in the series, but Clarke is certainly highly entertaining. 

We have heard and read how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar prefers to keep outsiders to a distance. Solomon Hughes takes the portrayal of a supposedly reclusive and unapproachable superstar to the highest levels in the first episode. Hughes’ Abdul-Jabbar will tell anyone to “f—k off,” no matter who it may be. He profanely blows off a young boy who works with him on a movie set, and Abdul-Jabbar’s own teammate knows that he is going to get the same sort of treatment. 

How West and Abdul-Jabbar are depicted doesn’t help their public personas for sure, at least at the start of the series. But so far, they are admirably characterized by those chosen to depict them.

 Jerry Buss and Magic Elicit Grins on HBO’s Winning Time

John C. Reilly is a guy who always makes everyone smile, and he does it again in his role as Jerry Buss, who turned everything in life into a party, including his NBA team. In the first episode of “Winning Time,” we see Buss rendered as a cheerful, fun-loving type which also is a confident businessman. He has a knack for staying upbeat even when anger and adversity test him, and Reilly does a superb job of balancing his personality. 

Earvin “Magic” Johnson is played very faithfully by Quincy Isaiah, who is new to the spotlight that this series puts him in. He totally immerses himself in the effervescent, widely-known exterior of Johnson’s personality. At the same time, he is also able to turn introspective when the moment calls for it, showing other sides of Johnson that were more apparent to those who were closer to him or encountered him in more intimate instances. 

When these two share the screen together, you can sense the kinetic energy of what’s ahead for both of them as central figures in this tale of explosive success. Even while Buss and Magic are simply sharing a burger, it’s clear that they are so comfortable together as sources of joy in what they do and who they are. There is instant chemistry between these two key founding players in the “Showtime” phenomenon. 

Doses of Reality

Buss and Magic did encounter some resistance from the Lakers’ existing regime when they attempted to light the fuse on their new era. Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke, played by Michael O’Keefe, doesn’t make it easy for anyone around him, including Buss, when he tries to buy the team. He also isn’t paying Johnson what he requests when they meet. 

DeVaughn Nixon plays his father; former Lakers guard Norm Nixon, who was one of the better point guards in the league until Johnson displaced him. Nixon is obviously threatened by the possible arrival of Johnson. In what is reportedly fictional but a memorable and illustrative scene, Nixon embarrasses Johnson in a game of one-on-one, making Magic reconsider his decision to turn pro and possibly head back to Michigan State for another season. A clever, well-intentioned Buss gets Magic to change his mind. But we will see more of Nixon, who ended up sharing the backcourt with Johnson until he was unceremoniously shipped off to San Diego. 

In the weeks ahead, Pat Riley will enter the picture, and we will witness how Abdul-Jabbar’s thick exterior was penetrated by the Johnson charm.
Many of us know at least the surface stories of the 1980s Lakers, but so far, they look like they are going to unfold in a very entertaining fashion further. 

Featured Image: The Daily Beast
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