Saturday, April 30, 2022

Five Minutes watching....Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty

I don't watch a lot of movies because, well, at this point I just don't. I don't watch a lot of TV either. As I've said before, a lot of movies and television as of late have become much more niche oriented. And I ain't in their niche. Plus I'm STILL trying to be productive. And do some writing. Well, a little bit, I need to get back to it. I also still have a ton of video games I bought on sale I still want to play. Wait, I don't watch TV, play games or write...what am I doing?  

Winning Time surprised me by being a pretty good show.

But, Winning Time on NOT the true story of the behind the scenes of the creation of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball dynasty, which also just coincidentally is the beginning of the rise of the modern NBA. It's just not. It says so in the bumper of every episode. It states clearly it's all be dramatized. It is Historical Fiction, right up there with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Each week there is a podcast and about twenty Youtube shows picking through the script looking for where they stretched if not outright lied about what happened. This is very clear.

And yet people are upset that the show is not a documentary. Go figure.

The show is an ensemble piece, following the story of hedonistic wheeler-dealer owner Dr. Jerry Buss taking a big gamble on basketball, the slow growth of Pat Riley from junior announcer to legendary coach, and the maturation of Magic Johnson from college star to NBA superstardom. Along the way you learn about some the machinations Dr. Buss had to pull off to make it all work, a fresh look at a long forgotten coaching drama and see an idea of the shift from the young wet behind the ears rookie Ervin learning the ropes to Magic, the leader of a championship team. And while it's a great story, it's there is a lot of bullshit. A lot. 

It's, gumbo if you will, of fact and fiction for dramatic purposes. Norm Nixon, the point guard of the Lakers when Magic was drafted has explained that no, he did not play Magic one on one while wearing a white fur coat at a party the summer before the rookie's first year. But it's a hell of scene. Jerry West is portrayed as angrily obsessed with winning. But a lot of this version of him are as I understand it, is taken from his own stories about his life, in that he broke a lot of golf clubs and could not watch the teams he assembled actually play the games. Pat Riley had left the announcing booth long before signing on as Westhead's assistant, but the idea of him sending down notes to the sidelines during games shows a hunger. Dr. Jerry Buss comes across as a guy with everything to lose but who refuses to back away from the table. Well, I understand his daughter is very involved in the show, so maybe that part is true. The starting coach that season, the man who actually designed the foundation for the Lakers fabled Showtime offense was only in a coma for three days, not weeks and the fight with Westhead didn't happen. And yes, even the games are out of order, but they way they were arranged builds drama, which is why we watch. I mean, we know the's in the title of the show, so filling out this space in the middle has to be good television. And it is.  

Good television? You find yourself rooting for characters you didn't even like or notice. Or realizing there is more to a portrayal than there first seemed. Or recognizing a character arc halfway through without the changes being spoon fed to you. Or appreciating the characterization of even the supporting roles. Now, it's not the Wire or Breaking Bad, but it is good writing and very good acting. The editing feels a bit frantic at first, and they do show some portions of games but not much the real drama isn't in the seconds left on the clock but the tension between the front office, coaches and what goes on between dribbles.   

Half the fun of watching are the these characters meet other actors playing other famous people. It is LA after all. From early court-side Jack to Richard Pryor, Iman and Milton Berle, as well as other legendary NBA notables throughout the season, including more than a few unexpected drop-ins and quite a few actual history lessons. .

More, one of the cool aspects of the show is that those actors for the most part fit. And while John C. Reilly and Sean Patrick Small give what are apparently inspired impression of Dr. Buss and Larry Bird, I'm not sure where they even found Quincy Isiah. There are times he appears to become a young Magic Johnson. I don't know if it's the way he holds his face, the angle, the lighting or even a little CGI trickery, but it's there. The actor portraying Kareem I think gives the elder statesman of the game the proper gravitas considering where he was in life. The show takes the time to cover a portion of his personal growth, as well as explain a number of things about a number of other players. Plus, the ball players are all actually tall, it's not camera tricks.

It really is worth a watch. If only to see just what Jerry West is ready to sue everybody involved for.  

Barkeep. One for the Lakers. On Dr. Buss' tab.

Note - Yes, Magic did actually pass on signing with Nike, which at the time made sense. But oh what could have been.