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Series / Winning Time

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Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty is a 2022 biographical sports dramedy series created by Max Borenstein and Jim Hecht and produced by Adam McKay. It was based on Jeff Pearlman's nonfiction book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.

It follows Jerry Buss' (John C. Reilly) helming of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team from Magic Johnson's (Quincy Isaiah) rookie year in 1979 throughout its Showtime era, which lasted throughout The '80s and up to Johnson's retirement in 1991.

The Ensemble Cast also includes Jason Clarke, Gaby Hoffmann, Tamara Tomikili, Solomon Hughes, Adrien Brody, Hadley Robinson, Sally Field, Jason Segel, Tracy Letts, Gillian Jacobs, and Seann Patrick Small.

It premiered on March 6, 2022 on HBO and aired until September 17, 2023 when it was cancelled. See trailers here and here.

This series contains examples of:

  • The '70s: The story begins in 1979, with Jerry Buss buying the Lakers.
  • The '80s: Where the bulk of the story is set, in keeping with the Showtime era.
  • The '90s: The story ends with Magic Johnson's HIV diagnosis and subsequent retirement in 1991.
  • Accidental Misnaming: The notoriously aloof Kareem calls then-assistant coach Paul Westhead "Jeff" during their first conversation.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: The real Jerry Buss was more average looking than the Kavorka Man depicted by John C. Reilly
  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • Jerry Buss periodically calls his daughter Jeanie "Jean Bean".
    • Third-string guard Brad Holland, the Lakers' other first-round pick from the 1979 draft, is nicknamed "Potsie" for his resemblance to Anson Williams' character from Happy Days.
  • Answer Cut: A very unique one. While discussing an up-and-coming player with his daughter Jeannie, Jerry Buss says "That's why they call him -" and the scene immediately cuts to the exterior of Magic Johnson's home, with his mother heard saying "Do not use that nickname in this house."
  • Artistic License – History:
    • While the show would lead viewers to believe that Jerry West was a perennial superstar who never managed to win a championship during his career, in real life he did lead the Lakers to a championship in 1972. Subverted in Episode 2, which shows Jerry winning the championship.
    • Most of the behind-the-scenes drama involving the players and coaching staff is made up by the show. Jerry West resigned as head coach behind closed doors in the middle of the offseason, not suddenly in the middle of a staff meeting. Paul Westhead was reasonably confident and successful as a head coach, not a diffident basket case constantly in danger of being replaced. The conflict between Magic and Norm Nixon was overblown. Most of Spencer Haywood's drama, however, is somewhat based on reality.
    • Pat Riley had been on the broadcasting team for two years before the events of the series.
    • In Episode 4, Mark Landsberger is with the Lakers at the start of training camp in 1979, and Norm Nixon greets him as if they were teammates the previous season. In real life, he was a midseason acquisition from the Chicago Bulls who only joined the Lakers in February 1980.
    • Episode 7 has the Lakers going through a rough patch toward the end of 1979; they get dominated while visiting last-place Detroit on Christmas Day, but turn it around by beating the Celtics in Boston on a last-second shot by Michael Cooper. This was all done to heighten the drama surrounding Paul Westhead and his supposed lack of confidence as the Lakers' interim head coach. While the real-life Pistons were indeed terrible in 1979-80, winning just 16 games, the Lakers actually routed them at home, 138-122, on December 14, according to the team's Basketball-Reference game log. Two weeks later, on December 28, they trounced Boston at the Forum, 123-105.
    • Episode 10 shows the Lakers defeating the Sixers in Game Six to win the title, but the second half was a little more of a runaway rather than how it was portrayed, with Michael Cooper making two concussed foul shots to put it away. However, Rule of Drama does apply.
  • Ascended Extra: Sort of in reverse, due to the first scene being an epilogue of sorts, but Lon Rosen goes from being an intern at the Forum to a member of Magic's inner circle, being his only friend present as he's diagnosed with HIV.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The series ends with the Celtics defeating the Lakers in the 1984 Finals in seven games. However, the last scene shows that Jerry and Jeanie have reconciled and as the epilogue states, the Lakers would get their revenge the next season by beating the Celtics for the championship and all of the main characters would continue their careers to great success.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: A constant of characters talking right to the camera to relate who other people are and setting up some scenarios.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: In Episode 8, Jeanie has had enough of her dad's hedonistic lifestyle when she sees him flirting with the nurse taking care of his mother. Jeanie tells Jerry that her grandma Jessie's cancer has actually returned, and that nobody told him about it because they didn't want to get in the way of his hard-partying, womanizing antics.
  • Calling Your Attacks: One of Larry Bird's favorite forms of Trash Talk consists of telling his defenders exactly how he plans to score and then doing it. (Not creative license, as there are numerous stories of the real Bird doing this.)
  • Catchphrase: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's is "fuck off."
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Jerry West's form of communication on just about any given day.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Linda Zafrani (and to a lesser extent, fellow employee Lon Rosen, for a male version of this trope), is initially dismissive of Jeanie for the very reason that she's the boss' daughter and may have ulterior motives (like an expensive new car from daddy) for working as an intern. But when Jeanie joins Linda and Lon for a clandestine pot session (despite the fact she really doesn't smoke pot), she reveals that she genuinely wants to help her dad turn the Lakers' business around, earning their trust and friendship in the process. By the end of the season, Linda wants to hire Jeanie as a full-time employee and it's Jerry who blocks it.
    • Red Auerbach gives a nod of respect towards Jerry when the Celtics lose at home to the Lakers in episode 7. Until then he had regarded Jerry as little more than a spoiled brat who saw his team as just another shiny toy.
    • Kareem eventually learns to have fun and respect Magic's happy demeanor, lamenting to his father that he couldn't do the same after all he'd been through.
  • Did Not Think This Through: Following his initial success with the Lakers, Magic is offered a contract extension for $25 million over 25 years, the largest in NBA history, from Buss and immediately accepts it. But as Kareem later points out during his own discussion with Buss, the growing success of the league and its effects on player contracts means that within a few years, Magic's $1 million/year salary will be the standard player rate and he will be unable to renegotiate because the length means he's locked into the contract for the rest of his career. So rather than paying Magic his true value, Buss locked him into a cheap deal that ultimately benefits himself and the team's finances.
  • Discriminate and Switch: Upon arriving at a party, Magic is initially barred from entering and told that it is "whites only" - but it turns out it wasn't because of his race, but because everyone has to wear white and he's given a white blazer so he can enter.
  • The Ditz: Mark Landsberger. It's mentioned multiple times in Jeff Pearlman's book that the Lakers' backup power forward was not the brightest bulb in the box. Sure enough, in one of his first speaking parts, he asks in Episode 8 if William Shakespeare is still alive.
  • Dramatic Irony: Shortly after Magic Johnson is shown to be bitter about Larry Bird winning the Rookie of the Year award over him, we see Larry Bird watching the NBA Finals, bitter that Magic is playing for a championship and he isn't.
  • Easily-Distracted Referee: In episode 7, the Lakers are facing the Boston Celtics on their home turf, with all the disadvantages that entails, including referees that are clearly ignoring repeated fouls by the Celtics. It becomes so bad that rather than allow Coach Paul Westhead to get ejected by finally confronting it, ex-Laker-turned-assistant-coach Pat Riley steps up to chastise the head referee so badly that he gets ejected. To his credit, the referee only offers Pat a cheerful "Hey, welcome back, Pat. Enjoy your first ejection."
  • Extreme Doormat: Paul Westhead basically needs to be handheld through everything and never stands up for himself.
  • Headphones Equal Isolation: Kareem engages in a bit of this in his dressing room on the set of Airplane! to the point where he can't hear Norm yelling at him.
  • Heads or Tails?: As in real life, it was literally the flip of a coin whether Chicago or Los Angeles got the first shot to draft Magic.
  • How We Got Here: The first episode opens in 1991, with Magic getting his HIV diagnosis. After the intro, we see the story chronologically begin in 1979.
  • Hypocrite: For all of Magic's talk about setting aside egos for the sake of the team, he's unwilling to do so himself. Kareem calls him out on it in Season 2.
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: In Season 2, Paul Westhead's efforts to be more assertive and take charge of the team fall straight into this territory. He's so terrified of anyone or anything that he believes might undermine his authority that he's quick to lashing out.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Buss and Magic are this, to both the advantage and detriment of the team as Buss will lend his ear to Magic's thoughts on the team and act accordingly. Truth in television too as they had a very close relationship for the rest of Buss' life.
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • A variation as Episode 1 has Jerry's partner moaning in 1979 on how "there won't be an NBA in five years!"
    • Magic's agent pushes him to accept a money deal for a shoe in his name from Converse instead of a stock deal from Nike as "no one cares about Nike." We then see how missing that deal cost Magic literally billions of dollars.
    • After the Lakers' loss to the Detroit Pistons on Christmas Day 1979, Pat Riley quips, "who watches games on Christmas?" Years later, the NBA would start scheduling marquee games on Christmas Day, naturally drawing tons of live fans and TV viewers.
  • Jerkass: Ron Boone comes about as one, as among the veterans, he is the most openly disdainful of new coach Jack McKinney and his run-and-gun system and is the most antagonistic toward Magic, even getting to the point of shoulder-blocking him to the floor with a dirty, clearly illegal pick. Magic fights back during a subsequent scrimmage, sucker-punching Boone and triggering a wild brawl between both men. (According to Pearlman's book, things played out a bit differently in real life — the fisticuffs started during a rebound play where Boone hit Magic with a forearm to the back of his head, and Magic retaliated almost immediately.)
  • Kavorka Man: Jerry Buss, balding, middle-aged millionaire business tycoon who wears a comb-over and looks every bit his age, is often spotted with gorgeous, oftentimes blond women young enough to be his daughter...or barely older than his own daughter, Jeanie.
  • A Minor Kidroduction:
    • Episode 2 opens with a scene of Jerry West as a boy with arguing parents.
    • In Episode 4, we see Jeanie Buss, then 7 years old and having momentarily strayed from her mom and siblings, witness her father Jerry making out with one of his many young lovers in a restaurant.
  • "Mister Sandman" Sequence: Downplayed. In the 1991-set prologue, the first things we see are a woman reading a magazine with Saddam Hussein on the cover, and a boy playing a Game Boy.
  • Oh, Crap!: Buss when he realizes that because of his mother's memory issues, not only has she been paying the vendors with checks from an account that was closed five years ago but she completely forgot to file the transfer of ownership paperwork for the team just after Buss blew off the bankers.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted big-time with main characters Jerry Buss and Jerry West, and later in Episode 3 with a third Jerry, UNLV coach Tarkanian, joining the mix. (Interestingly, none of these Jerrys has the same complete first name — Gerald Buss, Jerome West, and Jerry Tarkanian.)
  • Perspective Flip: In contrast to the usual Lakers focused plots, "The Second Coming" dedicates time to showing Larry Bird's backstory and his relationship with Red Auerbach during his signing process.
  • The Peter Principle: An interesting example in that it's the character himself who realizes they are this. Jerry West resigns as the team's head coach after realizing he is unsuitable for the job because he can't connect with the players due to them being so different than he was when he played.
    • Paul Westhead is an exceptional assistant coach, but struggles with confidence as a head coach.
  • Punk in the Trunk: How Vic Weiss ends up after his murder.
  • Retraux: The show is shot on various forms of film, to better emulate the time periods. For instance, the 1979 scenes are shot on 16mm film.
  • R-Rated Opening: Downplayed. The first scene after the Cold Open of the first episode is of Buss musing about how basketball is like good sex to a woman he'd just had sex with in the Playboy Mansion.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: "The Hamburger Hamlet" has Pat Riley, who has been promoted to head coach following Paul Westhead's firing, delivering one of these to the entire team, telling the players that all of them have let their egos and pettiness get in the way of the team's performance and nobody has the right to deflect blame for their recent struggles, especially Kareem and Magic. The result is the team going on a winning streak and making it all the way to the Finals.
  • Rule of Drama: And how! This has been the source of a lot of angst (from the real life people portrayed) to added interest from others and publicity for HBO itself.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Jerry West is portrayed as the living embodiment of this trope.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • During the final scenes of episode 3, Bobby Darin's "The Good Life" continues to play as the body of Vic Weiss is found in the trunk of a car.
    • Similarly, as Episode 5 draws to a close, The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" plays as Jack McKinney goes on a bike ride, with the song still playing as he gets into a serious accident and is shown lying unconscious on the street and badly injured.
  • Stepford Smiler: Jerry West believes Magic's cheerful public image is a façade; Magic doesn't deny it.
  • The Strategist: Jack McKinney is the architect of the Showtime offense and is depicted as constantly at his desk, drawing up plays.
  • Title In: Show up on occasion to note the time and place.
  • The Unfavorite: Jeanie Buss knows more about basketball and especially the Lakers than either of her brothers, works to know the ins and outs of how the team works and even up on their finances. So imagine her reaction when her father wants her to take her brothers on a tour of the office and "see which one of them takes a shine to it" to make one of them chief financial officer, a job neither is remotely qualified for compared to Jeanine.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Kareem starts off believing that Magic is unintentionally playing into this trope; conversations with an Imam, as well as Magic's father, change his opinion.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Jerry West, who wasn't even happy when the NBA used him as the model for their official logo.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Most of the Lakers are dismissive of Larry Bird, believing he's been overhyped by the media for being white in a league dominated by black players. They're soon proven wrong when they go to Boston to play the Celtics and Bird proves to be just as talented as advertised.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The other players call out Magic for not going to visit Jack in the hospital like the rest of them.
  • Young Future Famous People:
    • One aspiring dancer is wary of becoming a "Laker Girl" but is swayed by the money. It's after she agrees, she's identified as future pop star Paula Abdul.
    • During the Lakers' first game of the 1979-80 season, as they face the San Diego (later Los Angeles) Clippers, the commentators mention Clippers forward Joe "Jellybean" Bryant's infant son, Kobe Bean Bryant, cut to a shot of him and his mother Pam, and put emphasis on his rather unusual first and middle name.