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'Winning Time' Finished Its First Season Strong

By Stephen Douglas
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Winning Time wrapped up its first season on Sunday night with *spoiler alert* the Los Angeles Lakers winning the 1980 NBA Championship. Winning Time wasn't perfect, but it was good. Like the fictional version of Jerry West, we won't spend a lot of time celebrating the first season before looking forward to next season to see how the show can improve.

Quincy Isaiah, John C. Reilly
Premiere Of HBO's "Winning Time: The Rise Of The Lakers Dynasty" - Arrivals / JC Olivera/GettyImages

Winning Time certainly had its own aesthetic. It was shot to feel like it was of another time which will help the show age, but was also annoying at times as they needlessly switched from filter to filter like someone first learning how to use the transitions in PowerPoint.

That was just one of the problems that the show regularly overcame to end up being an entertaining retelling of the story of Magic Johnson's rookie season. At every turn the show twisted facts that didn't really required any twisting just to try and make the story more outrageous. The best example being David Stern's role in the final episode.

As angry as Jerry West is, that's how much of an evil genius David Stern is. Stern shows up at Game 6 and is the only person in the NBA to realize that the Lakers could possibly win the championship so he has someone call New York to get the commissioner there by the end of the game. Then instead of writers changing their votes so CBS wouldn't have to present Kareem Abdul-Jabaar with a trophy over the phone, Stern pitches Magic on the idea of just taking the MVP from Kareem because it's a better story. It's really a perfect explanation of how the writers thought about the show.

Just look at the Spencer Haywood storyline. It's slightly more dramatic to have the team vote to kick Haywood off the team than just have Paul Westhead make the call. But it also sets up a much funnier - and more pointless - twist where Haywood gets to say he's hiring a hitman to "kill the Lakers." Hiring a hitman to kill your coach in the middle of the NBA Finals isn't juicy enough?

I understand poetic license and having to tell an interesting story, but it just seemed like some of the lies the show told didn't really add much. But we're not here to nitpick. Mostly. The show is worth celebrating for two very important reasons: casting and basketballing.

Even if the material is a little out there, the actors all deliver. Every actor was pretty much born for their role, including, somehow, Rory Cochrane as Jerry Tarkanian. John C. Reilly made me forget the real Jerry Buss ever existed. Quincy Isaiah and Solomon Hughes are perfect as Magic and Kareem and the rest of the Lakers are great. Jason Segel and Adrian Brody make a great couple. I know nothing about Claire Rothman or Jessie Buss, but Gaby Hoffman and Sally Field are both excellent. Maybe the toughest role is Hadley Robinson as a young, inexperienced, capable, overlooked Jeanie Buss who is literally the posterchild for how poorly Buss treats women in this show. (Side note: Hoping for a whole lot more of the failson Buss boys in season 2.)

Then there's the basketball. The actual basketball works. From the first game of one-on-one between Magic and Norm Nixon to the actual NBA season, the basketball has felt real. Everyone looks and moves like they're just alternate angles of old highlights. The scenes in the locker room and huddle feel like they've been ripped out of good sports movies. There are legitimate moments during the games where you might even get goosebumps (Couldn't be me).

When you nail that stuff what more can you ask for? The series had most of its bumps early, but really took off when the team came together for training camp. It's probably right around the time that Jason Segel saw his screen time increase, which also coincides with the basketball becoming the main story instead of Jerry Buss trying to get a new line of credit.

The show may have figured some things out as the first season went along and if they can stay true to the basketball and actual story, there's no reason the show can't get better. I doubt it ends up on the HBO short list with stuff like The Sopranos or The Wire, but if they stick to the gameplan there's no reason it won't someday be more fondly remembered than Game of Thrones.

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