‘Winning Time’ rises to the occasion

Dennis J. Freeman
5 min readMay 19, 2022


'Winning Time' rises to the occasion

(News4usonline) — The first season of HBO’s “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” did a good job of getting and keeping people’s attention. It kept mine throughout the 10 episodes that were showcased on the small screen.

Now mind you, the truth of what really went down behind the scenes in the building of one of the more historical and storied franchises in all sports is somewhat blurred. HBO begins each episode stating loosely that there is some dramatization to the series based on true events. This allows the audience to know right off the bat that you don’t know what’s true and what is not.

Despite all of the controversy around the docu-series and all of the noise about some of it being an exaggeration of the truth, “Winning Time” was very very entertaining. On a greater scale, the first season of “Winning Time” was a fun ride. It had its moments of being funny, bombastic, loud, and gentle.

Solomon Hughes (Kareem Abdul Jabbar), DeVaughn Nixon (Norm Nixon), Jimel Atkins (Jamaal Wilkes) star in the HBO docu-series: “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.” Photo by Warrick Page/HBO

But it also unveiled moments of darkness in the midst of all that glitz and glamour. On the surface, Johnson and the Lakers embraced being the NBA’s swag team.

Behind the scenes, with the grind of mending tenuous relationships with larger-and-life egos between players and coaches and the building infrastructure of management, the Los Angeles Lakers were trying to figure things out like any other franchise.

“Winning Time” does an excellent job in trying to capture all of this, from moody center Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Solomon Hughes) to the seemingly always jovial Earvin “Magic” Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) to the tragic downfall of four-time NBA All-Star Spencer Haywood (played exceptionally by Wood Harris).

The portrayal of Haywood is particularly meaningful in the sense that the former power forward was the player who originally challenged the NBA’s limitation at that time that said athletes would have to wait until they had put behind four years of college eligibility before they were able to make a living playing in the league.

Wood Harris gives a bravo performance as troubled Los Angeles Lakers forward Spencer Haywood in the HBO docu-series: “WinningTime: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.” Photo by Warrick Page/HBO

Haywood did not want to wait and would file suit. This legal matter went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices on the U.S. Supreme Court wound up knocking the NBA off of its feet with a 7–2 ruling against the league, thus allowing the future invasion of underclassmen to seek the riches of playing pro ball. Haywood, himself, turned pro after his sophomore season in college (Detroit).

Haywood would have a long career in the ABA and NBA. He played one season with the Lakers towards the end of his career. It was during this time with the Lakers that “Winning Time” highlights his personal demonic fight with drugs, more specifically cocaine, and his professional downward spiral.

After a year away from the league, Haywood played two more seasons in the NBA and was done.

Despite the hardships of battling drug addiction and nearly throwing away his incredible career, Haywood was voted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015. Part of the allure of “Winning Time,” is that it has all the necessary ingredients to draw people in and keep them there.

A part of that allure is watching the family drama unfold, feeling the angst of a romantic tug-o-war, the art of running an NBA ballclub, and seeing enough intimate scenes to make you wonder was all of that necessary?

John C. Reilly (left) as Dr. Jerry Buss, and Joey Brooks as Lon Rosen in the HBO docu-series: “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.” Photo by Warrick Page/HBO

The short answer is yes. That’s the whole point of entertainment. You get a buy-in product and sell it. In this case, the product is the Lakers, a franchise with 17 world titles. The “Showtime” era of the Lakers was magical for both the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Lakers. That era of basketball came at the right time for the league.

When Johnson stepped on the Los Angeles scene as the “Showtime” conductor, the Lakers and the NBA would never be the same. For a decade, Johnson and the Lakers ruled the NBA, winning five NBA Finals in the process. Johnson, with his highly-profiled exuberance and ever-glistening smile, was Hollywood the day he touched down in the city of Angels.

And then there was team owner Dr. Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly), the man who had the audacity of having a vision of being an NBA owner and then being successful at it. What we see in “Winning Time” (a dramatization loosely based on Jeff Pearlman’s book, “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s”) is a series that connects with so many people.

Sally Field as Jessie Buss in the HBO ducu-series: “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.” Photo by Warrick Page/HBO

Jeannie Buss, who took over the Lakers as the team’s CEO after her dad’s passing, is given honorable treatment by actress Hadley Robinson. Sally Fields, as she has always done throughout her highly successful career, lands another magnificent performance as Jessie Buss, the matriarch of the family.

And Reilly nailed it with his raucous candor and believable acting as the Lakers’ flamboyant owner. So, outside of possibly any kind of legal mangling and some personal feelings being hurt at the portrayal of some of the key plays around the “Showtime” Lakers, “Winning Time” is well-deserving of a second season.

Speaking of a second season, HBO announced it will be bringing the series back.

“It’s been a thrill to bring WINNING TIME to life with Adam McKay, Max Borenstein, our phenomenal producing team, and this incredible cast,” said Francesca Orsi, executive vice president, HBO Programming. “This series not only tells the riveting story of the Lakers’ rise, but is also a look back at a transformative era in basketball, celebrity, and the city of Los Angeles. We can’t wait to see how this team will tell the next chapter of this dynasty.”



Dennis J. Freeman

The storyteller. More than a journalist. I write about sports and social justice. Editor of News4usonline.com and Black Sports United. Howard University alum.