HBO look at showtime Los Angeles Lakers scores

It would be easy to dismiss “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” as just another exploration of another era’s jock culture.

That, however, would do a disservice to the adaptation of author Jeff Pearlman’s book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s,” which goes beyond the how and why to explore the social issues surrounding the glorious Lakers teams that came to dominate the NBA with their fast-paced play and colorful personalities.

The Lakers won five championships in that decade courtesy of the play of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar and the coaching of Pat Riley.

However, they redefined basketball for the future with an up-tempo style of offensive play that came to be known as “Showtime,” a perfect moniker given the team’s locale.

HBO made much of the Season 1, which essentially explores the first year that Jerry Buss (played with complete joyous abandon by John C. Reilly) owned the team, the subsequent drafting of Johnson and his integration, for review.

Forget integration. When Johnson (Quincy Isaiah, who apparently managed to steal Johnson’s smile for his portrayal) arrived as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft, Buss was ready to give him the keys and tell him to go. Generational talents in any field tend to stand out. Buss apparently recognized that.

Of course, when you’re a rookie, that’s not an easy role to assume and a lot of the drama – and comedic pathos – stems from Johnson and his status.

HBO’s ‘Winning Time’ strives for depth

It would be easy for “Winning Time” to mine those aspects for everything they’re worth and put together a satisfying piece of entertainment. However, producer Adam McKay, a filmmaker who won an Oscar for writing the “The Big Short,” and his cast of collaborators strive for something more in the material, which is absolutely a snapshot of American society while taking the gloss off the Lakers franchise .

John C. Reilly stars as Jerry Buss and Quincy Isaiah is Earvin

There’s the overt racism of some fans and there is the casual racism of those luminaries in the sports world as announcers describe Johnson as “naturally” gifted while his contemporary, Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics, receives constant acknowledgment of his intelligence. Although less prevalent today, such statements still slip through some sports commentary. The covert and overt racism the players contend with is handled with a light, but extremely effective hand.

In Johnson, the audience tastes what it’s like for a star athlete to have everyone own a piece of them and not know who to trust. We’re also given a view of a flawed individual whose choices eventually come back to haunt him.

In Jabbar (played with a sense of intellectual heft by Solomon Hughes), there is the issue of being a Black superstar athlete who is only valued for the ability to score points (Think “Shut up and dribble”), which in one regard can seem demeaning when Jabbar, who has authored several books, was never just an athlete.

His commitment to social justice was and remains strong. He participated in the Cleveland Summit regarding Black empowerment in 1967, of which he was a leader along with Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell.

Solomon Hughes stars as Los Angeles Lakers center Kareem-Abdul Jabbar in

Then there’s Buss, a flashy, hedonistic type of guy who, along with eventual coach Pat Riley, only wants to find his piece of the American Dream.

Finding the American Dream in the NBA

That common thread weaves through “Winning Time,” the quest for finding a spot in this country with some journeys being more difficult than others.

And each of their stories is featured, along with several others including how the team’s coaching situation evolved and the contributions that Buss’ daughter Jeanie made to the team’s development in a time where the prospect of a woman working in a leadership role in a professional sports organization – or any sports organization – was revolutionary.

Attached to the assorted storylines are a host of compelling performances with Sally Field as Buss’ mother, Jason Segel as coach Paul Westhead and Michael Chiklis, who turns in a memorable turn as curmudgeonly Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach.

“Winning Time” isn’t without controversy because the more lurid elements of sports stardom are not hidden from view and are sometimes dealt with in graphic detail. Such an approach has doomed other sports-related projects.

“Playmakers,” an ESPN drama reportedly based on the exploits in the NFL, found itself on the wrong side of that league and was eventually canceled under pressure.

However, there are already plans afoot for a second season of the series. For now, new episodes of “Winning Time” will debut weekly, but there’s no higher compliment in this day and age than to say, it’s positively binge-worthy.

George M. Thomas dabbles in movies and television for the Beacon Journal. Reach him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ByGeorgeThomas

Adien Brody stars as coach Pat Riley in


Show: “Winning Time: The Rise of the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty”

Cast: John C Reilly, Adrien Brody, Sally Field, Quincy Isaiah

Rated: TV MA

degrees: B+

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