In the last episode of winning time, Season 1 quickly cleans up the spectacle and gets straight to the point. The biggest conceit of the series is that as a series based on real life, it cannot deviate from the truth. But for all that creators Max Borenstein and Adam McKay have done for the series against allegations of inaccuracy, the show is at its core a fictionalized representation of real people, a real team, and a real outcome.
We are reminded of this in Episode 10, which begins in the deciding game 5 of the 1980 Finals, in which the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers tied 2-2. Lakers captain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar injured his foot in the second half but returned to the game and scored a historic win. But it renders him unable to play 6 in the following game. So it’s up to the Lakers coaching staff to experiment with something else.
Anyone who knows a bit of NBA history knows what happens next. Magic Johnson makes history by stepping down four positions to center where he goes ballistic and has 42 points and 15 rebounds as a rookie. It’s a positional move teased from the start by Jerry West (Jason Clarke) as a learning curve to take the rookie phenom off. But magic is magic, he can make lemonade out of lemons. It’s also apparently a move predicted by former coach Jack McKinney (Tracy Letts), who offers it to former protégé and current Lakers coach (in the episode) Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) as an olive branch in forgiveness. Magic also won the NBA Finals MVP, cementing its path as one of the top 10 greatest players of all time and the greatest laker of all time for those of a certain age.
There you have it. Lakers owner Jerry Buss completed his rags to riches story and lifted his family name from poverty into the history books. Magic does too, pulling its bootstraps through its working-class beginnings all the way to NBA Mount Rushmore. And the Lakers franchise is evolving from a laugh to a legacy team.
But Borenstein and Co. didn’t create anything winning time as an entertaining wiki article. Instead, they wanted to show the trials and tribulations behind the scenes and contextualize the Lakers’ rise to greatness amid an American economic and moral recession. winning time it’s not just about a team’s journey to glory; It’s also a retelling of the great narrative of literature, a character changing for the better.
Unfortunately where winning time really could have been transgressive, it failed. Claire Rothman (Gaby Hoffman) was never fleshed out as a full character. We never see them outside of the forum at all. We leave her ignorant of her life outside of Buss’ jurisdiction. So when Buss brings in his daughter Jeanie (Hadley Robinson), who will eventually help make the Lakers a champion again in 2020, only to ask her opinion on which of her brothers should get the empty board seat, we don’t just see how Little Buss has really grown, but how little has the mainstream media grown in their point-of-view storytelling.
That’s not to say that Winning Time should have told the story from Sally Field’s Jessie (Jerry’s mother) point of view or Jeanie’s point of view. But it could have given both more screen time. Rothman, to. We have all the main cast’s books written by the stars themselves and by others. But we know little about Jeanie’s rise to power with the Lakers. winning time could have shown us more from that vantage point to give us a true look behind the scenes. Instead we get another group of bad men trying to break the good, fail and try again.
The series morphs into your typical TBS/TNT drama by connecting any smaller storylines left open by the pilot. Karem (Soloman Hughes) passes Like the torch. McKinney and Westhead reconcile. Kareem learns to let go and surrender to God. And Buss prevails against his rival Red Auerbach. Oh yeah, and a strange but maybe true story about Spencer Haywood (Wood Harris) hiring drug addicts to murder his former teammates is solved.
It’s important to note that Haywood would kick drugs and change his life. Perhaps he presents the best happy ending of any great Laker performer. As Haywood, Wood Harris steals the entire series, gives the best performance, and tells one of the few stories even old minds weren’t all that familiar with.
The majority of the episode is spent reliving the faithful Game 6, which serves as a history lesson for millennials who believe the NBA began with LeBron James. The on-screen faux basketball is the best of the series, which isn’t saying much considering how most of the basketball scenes were mixed together in post-production. Most of the actors portraying the Lakers legends barely acted over college prom, if at all.
The episode turning into a Hoosiers/Air Bud level of championship game theatrics isn’t a bad thing. But the show has been trying to be so much more for nine episodes. An attempt was made to make a statement about the errors of cCapitalism, the invisible black man and the ills of American society. But in the end, it settled on mushy feel-good entertainment.
For example, when Magic tells versions of his mother, his girlfriend, and his rival Larry Bird that exist in his head to piss off in his living room, it colors the scene and episode with a melancholic acidity. We know Magic wins multiple championships and gets the girl. In fact, he gets every girl. And more. With the imaginary visions gone and Magic left alone in his home, we still know less of the man who has been part of our pop culture consumption for 30 years than we did before the series began.