Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (Season 2) Episode 1: Another Sunday night or Monday morning, another flashy HBO show to check out on your cable subscription, or on HBO Max, or whatever the poison of choice we choose to endorse as our streaming service. Other than The Idol, which at best can be called a misstep, HBO has not missed much of a beat in terms of its programming. And Winning Time Season 2 feels like they are going to continue that streak, even if accusations may arise from the actual players involved and who is being depicted in the show as peddling a form of hyper-realistic faux realism for the sake of entertainment.
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (Season 2) Episode 1 “One Ring Don’t Make a Dynasty” Recap:
The episode opens with Game 1 of the 1984 NBA Championship Finals, with the Lakers winning decisively against the Celtics. After they win, they start running and dodging popcorn while drinks are being thrown from the snacks stand by angry fans on the Celtics’ home turf, and get on the bus. High on the decisive win they just racked up, their celebration is stopped by a slicked-back Pat Riley (Adrien Brody), who admonishes them, in typical sports pep talk fashion, that their rings are not important. The Lakers are here to win hearts, and that is the way to secure a dynasty. On the nose, it might be, but Winning Time has never been about subtlety. It is flashy and stylized, a love letter to strong personalities as well as the cinematic nature of basketball. And because this is a show not executive produced by any actual NBA All-Star, chances are we might get a picture of these players far more unvarnished and less glossy, if a tad bit exaggerated.
Let’s go to Earvin Johnson Jr., AKA Magic Johnson (Quincy Isiah), who is currently flying high. The young buck of the Lakers and a ladies’ man, he gets into hot soup when he learns that one Melissa Mitchell is planning to complete her pregnancy. According to his lawyer and manager, the best option is to offer her financial assistance in exchange for her silence and for the child not to carry the Johnson name. If Ms. Mitchell ever reveals the identity of the child in public, she would be slapped with a very expensive lawsuit. This proposal does not sit right with Magic. And as a subsequent conversation occurs with his lawyer, who is revealed to be sleeping with him, turning his back on a child with his blood does not feel right. And even his lawyer’s steadfast belief that the guilt becomes easier to live with (nice touch on focusing on the ring she puts back in her hand) does not assuage his guilt.
Partially, that is also a confluence of understanding the consequences and yet still being buoyed by hubris over his success, which ultimately hampers his chance at building a stronger team. It leads to cracks being shown within the team, as feared by Pat Riley while he is speaking to Paul Westhead — other teams are trying out new ways to break their team down. The problem is, they would not have to try so hard if the team imploded from within. It becomes an issue when the dominance of leadership in the game forces the team to break off into two groups, with the practice match almost coming to blows between Kareem and Magic until Kareem is thrown to the ground and suffers damage to his cornea. That does put him out of commission for a few matches, leading to the Lakers depending exclusively on Magic to pull them through as Captain, and he does so in blistering fashion. But as Kareem laments at the poolside of his palatial home, he has earned the spotlight and the respect, and he would go back out tonight and dominate that game again. However, his declarations are cut short by his partner informing him that her water broke.
As Kareem returns to the locker room, he informs the team about the birth of his fourth child, Amir, and through that, tries to mend the strained relationship between Magic and himself, reminding him that the birth of the child had made him realize that there was more to his life than ego. At that precise moment, Kareem could only work as a partner. Whether the advice went to Magic’s head, we will never know because he tears the cartilage off his left knee. That injury benches him for weeks and forces him to go back to Lansing to recuperate.
If we are talking about fatherhood, let us not forget about the self-proclaimed “father of the year,” Dr. Jerry Buss. A victim of the same hubris that befell Magic, on account of being a rookie who turned into an overnight success (Magic on the court, Buss in the business arena), now Buss is thinking in the long-term. The new free agency rules are set to be ratified next year, and before that, Jerry plans to give massive contracts to players like Norm Nixon. Of course, that leads to Jerry West losing a gasket (Jason Clarke steals every scene he is in), but that anger is sound. Instead of paying massive contracts to stars like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, paying these contracts to other players as well seems like a financial oversight and a risk that might not pay well. But considering who Buss is, it is hardly surprising. The NBA was his shining goose, and he is the dilettante who made that sport sexier. With his team having won a championship in his first year, Buss’s stock is buzzing.
And considering how Buss is and because of the loss of his mother in the previous season, the man would want to keep his family close. Thus, in a movie that baffles even his financially savvy daughter, he chooses to bring his three children under his literal and figurative roof, inviting them to stay at his mansion with him as well as giving them roles within the company suited to their tastes. It is not surprising that Buss is unaware of his sons’ tastes or that the moves he actually makes are almost personal responses to the challenge issued by his ex-wife that he has no idea about his son. The only progeny Buss has any affection for professionally is his daughter. Thus, his ideas about giving his progeny side hustles are only understood by his daughter; not only would they open up a new line of credit to pay for the contracts, but when necessary, those businesses can become convenient tax write-offs.
However, fatherhood still eludes “the father of the year,” Jerry Buss, as even while playing Monopoly, he cannot stay out of his own head long enough to berate his son for not having the killer instinct or being cutthroat enough. Not only ruining game night but also confirming Jeannie’s worst fears of having all three siblings under one roof. The loss of Magic truly puts a wrench in the plans of both Westhead and Riley. Their previous plan of improvisation to confuse the opponent and create a blitzkrieg of an attack is failing due to the loss of Magic. To counter that, Westhand crafts a system conveniently titled “The System” (not a very imaginative name, but it will do), where the gameplay would depend on rapid passes and an immediate propensity to shoot, regardless of marking. It is a last-ditch effort, a “stupid plan,” according to Norm, but true to form, Kareem discerns the real reason for the plan: to paper over Kareem’s bad knee and resultant slowness and Magic’s loss leading to an awakened offense. This hurts Kareem’s ego, and he walks out of the locker room, the other players following in tow.
Meanwhile, Magic himself is at a personal crossroads, wracked by guilt over shirking responsibility and having gotten berated by his parents for the same, while emphatically arguing how this event could cause a blowback in his career. This finally leads to Magic’s mother meeting Cookie and requesting that she contact Earvin and convince him of the right thing to do. Cookie, still in a relationship, is pining for Earvin, seeing him in visions and talking and joking with her. Even as Cookie counters Earvin’s mother, her mother’s proclamation that “the Lord and a good woman can be enough to bring a man back to his feet” supposedly convince her enough to talk with Earvin and give him a soft but stern browbeating. It makes sense that her crude way of asking whether he ever thought about consequences before “putting his dick in someone” had the desired effect of Earvin answering in the negative. That truthfulness and Cookie’s ambivalent response of “Figure it out” finally force Magic to essentially “man up” and go meet his newborn son.
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (Season 2) Episode 1 “One Ring Don’t Make a Dynasty” Ending Explained:
On the day of the game, the team is finally assembled, and Westhead passionately delivers a speech on how his love of the game made him even become the waterboy for his high squad as he never qualified to play for the team. His belief in the consistency of “The System” puts the “team” above the stars,” and at that very moment, this game is a watershed moment for the Lakers to prove “these motherfuckers wrong” that they can play decisively without Magic. And prove the team does, with a winning streak moving them closer and closer to the playoffs. While back home, Earvin Sr. had enough of the wiliness of Magic’s manager and fired him (or garbage disposal, as he would like to describe it).
But as Jerry describes Kit in his voiceover while we see Magic practicing and recovering himself, the chemistry between an already established team is always “magic” to behold, and if one solitary element is introduced, that chemistry could unravel. As Buss’s soliloquy ends, we see Magic enter the stadium as a spectator to the roar of the crowd, distracting Norm, which leads to a possession gained by the Celtics and a 3-point hoop by Larry Bird, who points at the fourth wall and says, “Sit down and relax. I’ve got a show just for you”. Not to be outdone, Magic looks at the camera and says, “I really don’t like that motherfucker”. This sets the stage for the depiction of one of the most famous basketball rivalries of all time, Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird, while also stealthily setting up the fall of Paul Westhead, ironically due to his own “System.”