This review contains SPOILERS for HBO’s WInning Time: The Rise of the Lakers’ Dynasty, for the last review click here.
Rivalries, Monopoly, and trickery were the themes of the last two episodes of Winning Time. In the 80s, Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) and Larry Bird (Sean Patrick Small) were one of the best rivalries ever. Couple that with a guy that may not ever coach again and you’re in for a mess. Ervin Magic Johnson is a very interesting character, and these last two episodes expand on that. Between his father trying to steer him in he right direction and people in his ear, he’s more than a little confused. Jerry Buss on the other hand, is dealing with a lot more than basketball problems.
Episode 7 of Winning Time focused on Jack McKinney (Tracey Letts) not losing his job, and Magic Johnson showing the world he was indeed better than Larry Bird. McKinney was still recovering from his accident, and Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) was the interim coach. After failing to win or barely winning, Buss realizes he must make a decision. Jerry West (Jason Clarke) suggest Elgin Baylor (Orlando Brown) who’s jus left Utah. Buss is almost on board, but after a game of Monopoly with McKinney he decides to give Westhead a chance on one condition – BEAT BOSTON. This causes Westhead to ask Pat Riley (Adrien Brody) to join him on the bench. Riley joins as the team goes on a road trip that includes Magic going home to Michigan.
Magic gets interviewed and questioned about Larry Bird. Before he puts his foot in his mouth, Kareem (Solomon Hughes) saves him. They have their game against the Pistons on Christmas Day. Of course, they lose. Magic and Cookie’s (Tamera Tomakili) relationship is in the balance, but at his parents home she doesn’t show up. His father tries to convince him not to sign an endorsement deal with Buick.
Unfortunately, Dr. Day is in his ear and telling him to do it. Which leads his father and Kareem to have an important conversation. Black people are mistreated constantly. Earvin Sr. (Rob Morgan) comes from Mississippi where they hung people as a picnic day. Kareem ask him why Magic smiles so much and his father says it’s because he grew up in a good situation. They agree to have Kareem keep him in line. Magic does end up sleeping with Cookie’s bestfriend Rhonda (Chelsea M. Davis).
When the team finally goes to Boston, it’s essentially for all the marbles. Westhead must win, and things start off great. Then, the refs set the fix in for Red Auerbach’s (Michael Chiklis) team. Multiple fouls, and a lot of looking the other way. After Westhead and Riley have enough of it, they send Spencer Haywood (Wood Harris) out to play the enforcer. That is, after Riley gets ejected for cussing out the refs. The Lakers play some of the best basketball they can play and it turns into a great battle. The game ends when Magic and Kareem keep their connection going.
Read: ‘Young Justice: Phantoms’ Episode 20 SPOILER Recap/Review ‘Forbidden Secrets of Civilizations Past!’
Monopoly was a running theme in this episode. The episode started off with Buss playing Monopoly with his ill mother. He then plays with McKinney and that’s his deciding factor to give him a chance. He talks about the strategy to open the episode. The problems you face when playing the game as well. The perspective of seeing basketball as a monopoly was actually interesting.
Episode 8 of Winning Time was focused on Cookie and Ervin’s relationship. Also on the all-star game. At the end of episode 7, Kareem explained to Magic that no matter what the media would always love Larry more because he’s white. Magic accepts this as his fate, and it carries over into an important conversation with Jerry West. It’s all-star time. The votes are in and rookie Magic Johnson only has 10 player votes while Larry Bird has 17. This offends Magic given he just beat Bird.
Cookie joins Magic at the All-Star game, and they meet Magic’s idol, Dr. Julius Erving (James Lesure). He and his wife Turquoise Brown (Naomi Walley), invite Cookie and Magic to dinner. He destroys Magic in the All-Star game. Then, he does it again when they play him in Philadelphia. He also tries to give Magic some advice on his relationship with Cookie. Who ends up leaving him after finding out he got Rhonda pregnant at the end of the episode. Before all of that though, he has a serious conversation with Jerry West. West asks him why he’s always happy and smiling. Then Magic tells him the truth, he pretends to want to make everybody happy. His ultimate goal is to win at whatever cost.
Jerry Buss finally brings his mother, Jessie (Sally Field), home. She is dying but makes Jeanie promise not to tell him. Just continue to lie like she basically has been doing. He hires an in-home nurse to watch her, Lucia (Natalie Cordova-Buckley). She’s an attractive woman and like Buss does, he ends up becoming attracted to her. Jeanie sees this and spills the beans. In the end, he ends up crying to Lucia about his mother. She’s truly his everything and he doesn’t want to lose her. The sequence is actually extremely sad, and will probably shape the end of this season.
Jack McKinney’s situation is a little more odd. Paul Westhead is begging him to let Pat Riley join their two man coaching staff. Considering how big coaching staffs are these days, you’d think this would be a no brainer. McKinney is firmly against it though. He pushes Westhead to let Riley know he’ll no longer be coaching. Westhead is against it though and tries everything to make McKinney say yes to Riley. During the All-Star game at Haywood’s house, McKinney tells him that Riley wants him traded. This leads Haywood to spiral out on Riley and even smoke crack. It’s a crazy scene but it’s fitting given how chaotic the episode is.
Payman Benz uses a unique style of directing. Winning Time is a dramatization of actual events. Are they accurate? Who knows, this is based on a book by Jeff Pearlman. But Benz actually gives you something to enjoy. The actors are great and the drama is amazing. Benjamin Klein delivers that drama in a great way. This show has to be accurate though given Jerry West threatening to sue and Magic Johnson pipelining his own documentary that leaves out A LOT of detail. The basketball aspect is still the best part of this show, but the drama is finally catching up to be on par. I hope this continues next week on Winning Time. – Rascal F. Kennedy
New episodes of Winning Time premiere on Sundays on HBO and HBO Max!