Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (Season 2) Episodes 2 & 3: Winning Time is really at a breakneck pace this season. It fares well for the entertainment quotient and the manic filmmaking style, but it condenses timelines and simplifies conflicts, sometimes to an alarming degree. Both of these episodes, however, show the Lakers at their lowest point, divided both in the locker room and the front office, and how Buss manages to figure out the root cause and start the healing process. All the while the specter of Larry Bird hangs in the foreground, the Boston Celtics are the one thorn in the Lakers’ scabbard.

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (Season 2) Episodes 2 & 3 Recap:

Episode 2 – The Magic is Back

Magic Johnson is back on the court, and just like Paul Westhead feared, he is disrupting the system. It is also a way of disempowering players and empowering a coaching system, which would help a team rise to the top. With the return of stars like “Magic” or trading in likely stars like “Thompson,” there is a chance of further battles of egos as a result. The primary conflict is the point guard position, which has been capably handled by Norm Nixon and enhanced by the system. As a result, Nixon is having an all-star season, and Westhead is not ready to remove Nixon from the position. Having Nixon as the point guard drives the game and Westhead’s coaching tactics. Westhead truly believes that the system is strong enough that it needn’t be retooled or retrofitted by the return of “Magic” Johnson, even though having Magic back is an absolute necessity for the Lakers.

However, having Magic in practice immediately proves that the “system” needs retooling. Instead of working with Riley to retool the system, Paul has Magic benched for the entire first quarter of the game, even though the return of Magic creates a level of unprecedented hype for the Lakers. And then, when Magic finally gets back on the court, the rust in his game is thick enough to notice even the least seasoned basketball viewer, and as a result, there are more turnovers than baskets. He waits until the entire team has left before immersing himself in an ice bath to nurse his aching knee, which is where he is found by Riley, who looks right through Magic’s bravado and deduces that his knee is barely at 60%.

So the fourth ego at play now is Riley, whose secret sessions with Magic could be construed as the magnanimous nature of a coach redeveloping his star player. However, Riley is doing what Westhead is failing to understand: Magic Johnson is the future, and whether anyone likes it or not, the development of a relationship would be essential in the long run. Right now, one of the key developments is ensuring that Magic is in a playable position in the coming game. The show feels like it is fast forwarding through the 1981 playoff season instead of focusing on the internal dynamics of the Lakers, the primary part of which is Riley’s actions, which are effectively undermining Westhead’s authority.

The second problem is the trading season, and Jerry West is very interested in Denver Nuggets’ shooting guard David Thompson (nicknamed “Skywalker” for his athleticism) and interested in trading off Nixon for Thomspson, which is a strict no-no in Westhead’s book, as Westhead believes bringing in another star would again make the game a “star” vehicle rather than a coach vehicle. Ego strikes again which Riley points out considering that they haven’t even met Thompson yet. But Westhead, while temporarily convinced by Riley’s jab to trade Thompson for Nixon, immediately backflips when he hears the next day that Magic Johnson is acutely aware of Norm Nixon’s trade, as Jerry Buss and Magic share a relationship that, to Westhead’s chagrin, supersedes Westhead’s professional position. However, Westhead has veto powers on any trade, and he finally chooses this moment to exercise the power lest he look ineffectual.

As it finally stands, Westhead takes on the responsibility of a Lakers team without the Thompson trade, which leads to a disastrous season, with the final game being lost due to Magic ultimately taking Riley’s advice to heart and trying to lob a basket and missing it, eliminating the Lakers from the playoffs in a disastrous fashion. This, coupled with the conflict between Riley and Westhead, with Westhead trying desperately to prove that his coaching skill works and Riley just surreptitiously choosing to work around it, isn’t doing any favors. Couple that with McKinney going off to win Coach of the Year with the Indiana Pacers, and it could be surmised—and Westhead’s insecure soul surmises it—that all the genius of Westhead could be attributed to his mentor’s genius, and no amount of advising Magic to be “suave” can save the Lakers unless they get their proverbial shit together.

The proverbial shit is also getting lost within the Buss family itself, with Jerry Buss looking for comfort and searching in his dreams for his ex-girlfriend Helen, his eldest son dating a tennis pro and advising on her professional career, which is beginning to get on Jeannie Buss’s craw, and Buss’s only child with the same drive as him but with none of his support. It remains to be seen where this subplot is going because the real-life history of Jeannie Buss is pretty well known. It just remains to be seen what journey Winning Time will take to get there.

 Episode 3: The Second Coming

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (Season 2)  Episode 3
A still from Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (Season 2)  Episode 3

Considering that Magic Johnson led the Lakers team to their championship in the rookie season, the fact that the 1981 playoffs is where they were eliminated by the Houston Rockets, of all teams, is unacceptable. A surefire failure and a confluence of internal management strife and locker-room issues leading to Norm Nixon voicing to the press that no one would remember “Magic” Johnson in 15 years, and you have a recipe for disaster. Thus, the bigger the disaster, the more widespread the fallout. Magic Johnson now feels insecure because, even after that disastrous season, Michael Cooper gets a fat contract extension, while he feels left in the dust, and Jerry Buss, his friend and co-conspirator, is keeping his distance. He worries whether his time with the Lakers will extend beyond his 5-year rookie contract.

At the front office, Jerry West and Paul Westhead are again, inevitably, at loggerheads. With Westhead now being given provisional authority, he supersedes both West and Riley by stating that he had sent his own “second” assistant down to look over Kupchak, and contrary to West’s judgment of Kupchak as a “big pasty Tonka Truck, like a fucking hockey goon,” Westhead believes this to be a good trade, and goes so far as to trade Jim Chones for Kupchak. It’s a dubious trade, no doubt, and Chones banging on Westhead’s door and shouting doesn’t exactly help matters but ultimately decreases the respect Westhead has with the players. But Westhead, at the moment, is more interested in playing passive power games and making sure that West and Riley understand the pecking order, thus ensuring that the trade of Chones occurs without Riley’s know-how.

Interestingly, Jerry Buss, in his family life, is trying to bring some stability. The loss of his mother has left a large vacuum and Helen (a composite of different girlfriends throughout West’s life) intends to be the person to mend that. But again, that adds to the dysfunctionality of the family anyway, whereby Jeannie Buss, who values the family game of Monopoly, feels sidelined when she finally arrives at a game to find her seat taken. Not only that, she is surprised to hear Jerry forbid talking about business during Monopoly, a weird change considering Monopoly had always been Jerry Buss’s methodology for teaching his children about business, the lessons that only Jeannie Buss had been able to imbibe. However, Jeannie Buss does what Jeannie Buss always does, trading away her brother’s girlfriend for Martina Navratilova for the Los Angeles Strings. It earned the ire of her brother, but that was a very Jerry Buss move.

What was also a Jerry Buss quality was his acute intuition about the rot within the Lakers. Thus he chooses to systematically rebuild, starting with gifting Magic Johnson the contract for 25 million dollars for over 25 years, effectively making him a lifer. It’s a notorious deal, and Magic is unable to understand the ramifications beyond asking for Cookie to move in with him to LA, which she refused, while Buss is staking his entire league on an insecure sophomore unicorn of a player. Thus, when Norm Nixon is invited to what he initially thought was a personal lunch with the owner, he is met by Magic and is essentially told to apologize or clear the air. While Norm does so in front of Buss and Magic, and Magic, too, essentially cracks a joke and breaks the ice, it is pretty evident that this notorious deal is going to be the make-or-break point for future episodes of this season.

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (Season 2)  Episode 3 Ending Explained:

For even casual basketball fans, the Larry Bird-Magic Johson rivalry is legendary, with Bird managing to be a permanent fixture of Magic’s psyche during his low points. This episode finally chooses to delve into giving Larry Bird an origin story in the same fast-forward fashion that Winning Time has been unceremoniously rocketing throughout. Bird’s relationship with his father, Joe, his dropping out of college, their relationship, and how Joe’s death affected Bird in 1975 are barely sketched out.

What it does appropriately get right is the amount of trash-talking Bird was so good at, even during the practice sessions, and especially when he appears to crash into the Indiana State practice sessions in jeans and a T-shirt and make mincemeat of the players on that team. The fact that Red Auerbach (Michael Chiklis) finally convinces Bird to go pro almost feels like destiny. Auerbach had managed to draft Bird as a junior, setting aside an unprecedented salary for a rookie because, in his words, “you don’t like winning as much as you hate losing. You are a Celtic”. Auerbach is hellbent on making the Celtics around Bird, and after witnessing Bird’s prowess, it seems a good idea for Buss to make Magic a lifer because, as the final scene shows, Bird has the Eye of the Tiger, and Magic is his next target.

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Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (Season 2) Episodes 2 & 3 Links: IMDbRotten TomatoesWikipedia
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (Season 2) Episodes 2 & 3 Cast: John C. Reilly, Quincy Isaiah, Jason Clarke, Adrien Brody, Gaby Hoffmann, Tracy Letts, Jason Segel, Julianne Nicholson, Hadley Robinson, DeVaughn Nixon, Solomon Hughes, Tamera Tomakili, Brett Cullen, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Spencer Garrett, Sarah Ramos, Molly Gordon, Joey Brooks, Delante Desouza, Jimel Atkins, Austin Aaron, Jon Young, Rob Morgan, Sally Field, McCabe Slye
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (Season 2) Episodes 2  & 3 Genre: Sports/Drama
Where to watch Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty

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