‘Winning Time’ goes deeper into Lakers’ dynasty

(News4usonline) – Through the first two episodes of “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,” we saw an introduction of some of the major players that would shape the origins of the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers.

Episodes three and four add more layers to the puzzle and how things came about. If there is one thing we can say about the HBO series, streamed on HBO Max, is that it is incredibly entertaining. Entertaining does not mean everything about the series is true, but it sure is fascinating and gives TV audiences something to have their eyes glued to the set for.

The best part of “Winning Time” is both the script and the quality of acting. Once you get to know the characters, you kind of almost think they are the real deal.

Just like the real “Showtime” Lakers, where Los Angeles turned the NBA world upside down, thanks to a charismatic showman who goes by the name of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, “Winning Time” has plenty of Hollywood flavor to it.      

But as I mentioned, the acting is solid. John C. Reilly actually does a really nice job of portraying the late Dr. Jerry Buss, who was the central ringleader in all of this. Reilly is almost too good at playing Buss, who is portrayed as being a shoot-from-the-hip real estate mogul who has a very healthy appetite for beautiful young women and vodka.

The steady Rob Morgan (Earvin Johnson Sr.) and the dynamic LisaGay Hamilton (Ernestine Johnson), very strong in the first two episodes as Earvin’s parents, are limited in their roles in episodes three and four as the series shifts to be more about the inner workings of the Lakers.

Sheaun McKinney (left) and Quincy Isaiah in a scene from Episode 3 of “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.” Photo by Warrick Page/HBO

Though they are not shown as much, Morgan and Hamilton still managed to bring their believable thespian work to the screen.

DeVaughn Nixon gives a spot-on impression as his real-life father, Norm Nixon, who was then the Lakers’ biggest star after center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The younger Nixon gives a look about his dad, at least through episodes two through four, of a guy basking in his own Kool-Aid and instantaneously hits the insecure button once Magic arrives on the scene.

Nixon’s jealousy of Magic is only underscored by his unflattering arrogance. Again, this is Hollywood, so how much of the truth about this rivalry only the real-life players know. But the stretching of the truth, like everything else in “Winning Time,” is to be absorbed in the eyes of the beholder. 

The HBO series is loosely based on Jeff Pearlman’s book, “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.” There has to be some truth to some of this stuff or we’d have a whole bunch of lawsuits dropping.

Whatever the case may be, “Winning Time,” so far, is a great watch if you don’t have a problem with some of the nudity being thrown into the mix every now and then.

And like the original conductor of the “Showtime” Lakers, a team that went to the NBA Finals eight times in Magic’s first 10 years in the NBA, “Winning Time” has THAT guy to make it all go.

That guy is newcomer Quincy Isaiah. Isaiah makes “Winning Time” hit its full potential as he is able to execute his role as Magic into perfection. Isaiah almost makes you believe he is Magic. What Isaiah does really well is master all the cadences that make Magic…Magic.

DeVaughn Nixon plays his real-life father Norm Nixon in “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers dynasty. Photo by Warrick Page/HBO

Isaiah’s portrayal of Magic is warm, engaging and very personable. He also has that smile that turned Magic into a household name. Isaiah reminds us why America fell in love with Magic in the first place. What sold Magic to the public was that he appealed to most people as this earthy, laid-back and fun-loving kid who just wanted to play basketball.

But what made Magic the Hall of Famer and the basketball icon he is today was his competitive fierceness and his will to win. Isaiah excellently provides us with this insight. As the “Winning Time” episodes navigate through three and four, the zeal to be himself as a basketball player wanting to unleash his razzle-dazzle skills on the rest of the NBA, “Magic (Isaiah),” has to go through some growing pains.   

It is also a reality that Buss and the Lakers organization find themselves in. What the episodes of three and four unveil to us is basically show off the backdrop of how the franchise went into manifestation as the shaping of the Lakers goes into play.

Brett Cullen (left) and John C. Reilly in “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.” Photo by  Warrick Page/HBO

It starts with Buss looking for a head coach he cannot afford and ends with the Lakers all coming together like one big family trying to figure things out. One day at a time.

In between, the most intriguing part of “Winning Time,” is how the series methodically builds on the development of Jeannie Buss as her father’s trusted confidant, even though she is low on the totem pole in the personnel department. And with her being daddy’s girl, the resentment of Jeannie by other employees is atypical of workplace backlash to nepotism.   

Hadley Robinson is wonderful playing Jeannie, who wants to be part of her dad’s world. In playing Jeannie, Robinson provides audiences with a portrayal of a naive, brilliantly sharp young woman looking to prove herself to the Lakers brass as more than just the boss’s kid.

While episodes served as an introduction to some of the key players of the Lakers dynasty, “Winning Time” episodes three and four offer a more substantial dig at the beginning of the fame Lakerland that we know it today. From Buss to Bill Sharman to Jerry West to Claire Rothman, and Pat Riley, “Winning Time” makes sure we get to know all the major orchestrators of the Lakers dynasty.

Featured Image: Quincy Isaiah (left), LisaGay Hamilton (Ernestine Johnson), and Rob Morgan (Earvin Johnson Sr.) in the HBO series, “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.” Photo by Warrick Page/HBO