It can be difficult creating a championship team and Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty is a retelling of the famous Los Angeles team of the 80s. On the previous episode, Jerry West drops the bomb that he’s resigning as head coach. Much of “The Good Life” depicts the scramble to find a replacement.
Before we go into that, let’s explore how Magic Johnson is transitioning to life under the big lights of LA. The future superstar, like any person moving to a new place, needs some adjustment time. It’s nice that teammate, Norm Nixon, is willing to take the rookie under his wing despite the schooling he gave the youngster in the premiere.
You can really sense the loneliness and isolation during this time. His family is loving and supportive but carrying on with their lives back in Lansing. He has his teammates but the generational gap has them prioritizing different things. Earvin is still young and always looking for a good time and becomes entangled with a shady local proprietor of an after-hours club.
Though there is an endearing innocence that Quincy Isaiah brings to the role as well because of his youth. He’s so easily star struck by the Hollywood celebrities. What’s most touching is his relationship with Cookie back home. She is a confidante and someone whose opinion he values yet she’s smart enough to not buy into his BS right now.
The main plot of this episode of Winning Time is the courtship of a new coach. In this case, UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian. There are great liberties taken with the storyline although it does make for better television. The lack of any Jack Kent Cooke involvement makes things more concise and easier to follow with Dr. Buss running point on negotiations. In addition, the way Vic Weiss is portrayed along with his relationship Tarkanian, makes the ending more dramatic with more of a warning towards the college coach rather than his associate being a shady character in general.
It also makes you wonder how much of a blessing it was that Tark the Shark never came to the Lakers. Even though he was the man behind the championship 1989-90 Runnin’ Rebels, his hard-nosed style wouldn’t fit well with Showtime and probably limit the heights those teams would achieve.
Winning Time can’t bring up coaches without introducing Pat Riley, and to a lesser degree, Jack McKinney. Because he played a more intricate role for the team, the focus is on Adrien Brody’s Riley. He is the recently retired player that can’t move on from the game. He is hounded by unresolved father issues and a ho-hum professional career. There is so much desperation to be around basketball but he’s unaware of the greatness coming his way. In an obvious attempt at symbolism, Riley picks up a piece of wood off of the beach. Similar to his journey drifting in life until he can find his calling.
Since the series is a period piece, there can be aspects that are cringeworthy while using a present lens. Some are only minor such as Jerry West declaring how he’ll always be a Laker considering their more recent falling out. However other incidences including the inclusion of Bill Cosby as the star that everyone wants to see and Chick Hearns description of Pat Riley’s voice feel they could have been changed considering all the freedoms taken. Especially for Hearns who is such a beloved figure, no one wants to see a less flattering side of him.
“The Good Life” covers the doomed saga of recruiting Jerry Tarkanian as head coach with some artistic liberties that play better for television storytelling. It also shows the difficulty of starting in a new place while also setting up the arrival of the coaches who would change the culture.
New episodes of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty air Sunday nights on HBO.
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