With 17 championship victories since 1949, the Lakers are to the NBA what the Dallas Cowboys are to the NFL: America’s team.
But HBO’s new dramatic miniseries Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty takes us back to a time before the Lakers were loved (and hated) the world over. This was before basketball was “hip, young, and sexy,” as legendary Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss (played by John C. Reilly) puts it at the beginning of the first episode.
Premiering on March 6, Winning Time begins in 1979, when the music was great and the haircuts were terrible. Directed by executive producer Adam McKay, the pilot has a vintage look to it, like it was shot on film—grainy frames and all. The style works well with the sparkly, smoke-filled aesthetic of Los Angeles at the turn of the decade. Winning Time has a lot of the trappings of McKay’s other darkly comedic work dealing with real-world plots, such as Vice and The Big Short. Buss often breaks the fourth wall, and McKay lavishes the viewer with stylized montages of real-life historical context. His unconventional approach works well to explain the rise of the NBA and the Lakers to their current heights.
The central plot of the pilot revolves around Buss raising the funds to buy the Lakers from the previous team owner while Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) decides whether to enter the NBA draft or return to college.