As Episode 4 of producer Adam McKay’s mesmerizing look at the Los Angeles Lakers’ 1980s dynasty, Winning Time, gets underway, the team’s eventual NBA success feels like anything but a slam dunk.
It’s 1979 and the squad under its new owner, aging playboy Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly in a tour de force), has neither a coach nor on-court chemistry. Waiting in the wings for some role in the action is a depressed former player turned announcer named Pat Riley (a beautifully nuanced Adrien Brody), who, in a frustrated attempt to “renovate” his garage has buzz-sawed it out of existence.
Reminded by the team’s star rookie Earvin “Magic” Johnson (dazzling newcomer Quincy Isaiah) of a particular on-court failure, Riley says, “I still see it in my nightmares, but hey, that’s part of the game, right? It makes you tougher.”
Those flops are the fuel that eventually leads the Lakers to “Showtime,” their uniquely high-speed approach to basketball that will earn them five titles in 12 years — four of them under Hall of Fame coach Riley.
His evolving fashion is the perfect metaphor for the team’s rise. “It’s a long way [to those Armani suits],” Brody says, laughing. “There’s so much that’s relatable to his story for me,” he adds. “That shift of trying to find your purpose again is enormous. And there’s something beautiful in all of us knowing the heights that he reached and maintained.”
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, 9/8c, HBO