Winning time finale review

In episodes nine and 10 of "Winning Time," Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah), center, leads the Lakers to success in the NBA Finals, Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly), left, must decide on a coach and Jerry West's (Jason Clarke) story seemingly comes to an end.

As “Winning Time” progressed, the focus shifted from a stylish blend of business and pleasure to a meaningful, heartfelt tale of a Lakers legacy just begun. 

In episode nine, Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) is torn between bringing back old coach Jack McKinney (Tracy Letts) after his recovery or letting Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) and Pat Riley (Adrien Brody) finish out the season. Jerry also balances taking care of his mother (Sally Fields), who he refuses to admit is dying. Meanwhile, the Lakers cruise through the playoffs to the finals as the top seed, with their only problem being forward Spencer Haywood (Wood Harris). The episode ends with the Lakers voting Spencer off the team for his extended drug use, which had just recently come to light, then he put a hit on the team. This part of the show, surprisingly enough, is true and actually happened. 

Episode 10 picks up quickly, flashing through the finals to the fifth game in which Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes) injures his ankle, but he toughs it out, dominates through the end of the game and puts them up three games to two. Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) must step up with the captain out and push his team to a championship by playing center instead of guard. This meant that he had to play defense against the 76ers' 7-foot centers, play in the post instead of on the perimeter and carry more of an offensive load as well.

The story of the 1980s Lakers finally shines through the artistic craftsmanship and myriad of subplots that made the team itself seem less important. In these two episodes, we see Kareem, Magic, the rest of the players, Paul and Pat all work through issues as a unit. This synergy comes better late than never, but the show’s creative team never really dove into what actually made this Lakers roster so special — that is, until these last two installments.

Magic and Kareem look like the dynamic duo that dominated the ’80s both on and off the court. Kareem finally gives Magic some hard-earned respect, and Magic repays him with an ultimate performance in game six of the NBA Finals. The chemistry between the two up-and-coming actors only gets better as the series progresses, and now, in these final episodes, they actually seem to care for each other as more than just teammates. This companionship is needed in a series with mostly individuals working toward their own agendas — a factor that seems odd in a show about a team sport but somehow isn’t detrimental to the quality of “Winning Time.”

This ending isn’t as dramatized as the rest of the show — it doesn’t have to be. The Lakers actually did have a perfect ending to their historic, revolutionary season, and Magic really did put the whole team on his shoulders in game six. However, it’s hard to say whether Jerry West’s (Jason Clarke) sideline antics and general involvement down the stretch isn’t fictionalized. West has a big role in the end of season one, but his own story seemed finished far before the end. It’ll be interesting to see whether he has anything left for season two, as HBO renewed the show in April.

Finally, after nine episodes of keeping the action away from the hardwood, episode 10 bursts into color with over 20 minutes of on-court screentime. While it’s been chiefly quick cuts and montages of the basketball action, this time it’s a full game in a back-and-forth action scene that exceeds the wildest expectations for how basketball can be portrayed on camera. The production quality is dazzling and the pace is excellent. If the show was saving up for a giant, wonderful, true basketball moment, it got it, and more, in this final showdown. 

After the Lakers win the championship, the rest of the show is spent resolving conflicts quickly and efficiently and gearing up for the next round. Spencer Haywood doesn’t end up attempting to kill the whole team, Magic gets Finals MVP but credits Kareem. Meanwhile, Jerry Buss winks into the camera as he walks off into the sunset for the first time but not the last. 

Though there were some ups and downs, “Winning Time” delivered consistent quality entertainment and stylistic achievement. The story of the Lakers isn’t over, and hopefully, HBO will deliver a second season that lives up to the hype. 

Contact Jack Calabrese at calabrjl@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.