This review contains spoilers for HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers’ Dynasty
Every sport has had innovative players and coaches. There have been coaches like Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich, Mike D’ Antoni, Doc Rivers, and the focus of this episode of Winning Time Jack McKinney in basketball. Each one of these coaches has had an innovative concept adapted by other coaches. Jack McKinney is one of the coaches that began running a faster-paced game. This episode was about that concept and how two men figured out a plan to dominate basketball.
Winning Time has been showing very few things involving basketball in the first two episodes. These last two episodes have been mostly basketball focused and it’s an entertaining thing. In the previous episode, Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) was trying to hire Jerry Tarkanian (Rory Cochrane), but the mafia had other plans. Therefore, Buss must look into other options. The one chosen is Jack McKinney (Tracy Letts), an innovative assistant coach from Portland. He’s hired right as the training camp starts in Palm Springs.
There are several problems with the Lakers organization. The staff is still trying to find ways to get money outside of basketball like entertainment at The Forum. The team is going bankrupt as Buss has a loan he’s going to have to pay soon. The players are also not getting along at all, and it’s creating pressure on McKinney before he even coaches a game. These are the elements at the forefront of this episode.
Buss’ mother, Jessie (Sally Fields) is his accountant. She wants him to put the team in his wife’s name. Jeanie (Hadley Robinson) also knows that they are going broke so she’s willing to do whatever it takes to fix the problem. They have Joan Mueller, Buss’ ex-wife sign a paper and become a silent partner. She warns Buss that nothing better fall back on her or she will expose him essentially.
McKinney is having a problem implementing his system, and Magic Johnson (Quincy Johnson) is having a hard time getting his teammates to like him. He talks to Cookie (Tamera Tomakili) and realizes that he maybe wasn’t as loved as he thought he was. He grows angry and tells Cookie some very disturbing things and she hangs up on him. Johnson then realizes he must take control and create a way for his teammates to accept him.
Meanwhile, McKinney must find a way to make the teamwork the way he wants it to. He has a 6’10” natural Power Forward playing Point Guard, so he creates a position-less system. Where whoever has the ball runs the offense, doing something unorthodox like having two point guards in the starting lineup. It takes a player protest and a conversation with Jerry West (Jason Clarke) to develop this concept. After a conflict between Magic and some other players, McKinney tells Jerry West who he wants to cut. The former basketball player, who’s been looking for a new position in the organization, finds it.
Jeanie, Linda (Molly Gordon), Lon Rosen (Joey Brooks) come up with a solution to how to bring money to The Forum. An experience as Jerry Buss. Turning the cheer team into Power Dancers, pretty much. The idea comes to Jeanie after she sees her dad’s binder of photos of women he’s had relations with. It’s a concept that Claire Rothman (Gaby Hoffman) embraces.
This was the best and most well-crafted episode yet. The fourth wall bit is still there, but it’s been cut down a ton which is making the show more entertaining. The basketball sequences are insanely great. Benjamin Klein delivers a teleplay that engages a lot of aspects of the show within one hour of television. The cinematography Mihai Malaimaire Jr. provides during the practice is amazing. Seeing how Magic was able to envision the court and get some of his passes off was insane.
Behind the scenes, Damian Marcano brings us a very well-directed episode. The narrative structure and editing help carry the story. Adam McKay not having his hands all over this is great for the show. He’s showing that just because you create something, doesn’t mean you have to play Capo. There is clearly some free reign for the writing staff and directors. Which is making a show that started off fairly slow into one of the better shows that premiere on Sunday nights.
This was a great episode. It definitely stalls during the second act of it for a bit, but the basketball stuff is outright crazy. As a fan of the game, it’s fun to watch how a concept is implemented or a scheme is put together. One man had an idea of how he wanted to run a team and another helped him adjust it. This was a premier offense at this time in the NBA, and watching how it came together is extremely entertaining. – Rascal F. Kennedy