Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty has been building to this final showdown. It’s been a long season but the team has only one series left before they can call themselves champions. We know in the end who comes out on top but it’s the road travelled to reach there that makes the series different.
“Promised Land” begins in game five with an unbelievable effort from Kareem to place the team only one win away. In the process, he severely damages his ankle and is out for the rest of the post season. This builds the drama as much as it did in real life with the best player no longer available. There are flashy camera tricks throughout the game with use of slow motion and close-ups, but can be cringey during the injury.
It’s difficult to picture a powerhouse like the Lakers as “David” but, in this case, it sets them up for the underdog role for a feel-good sports story. There is a fun and touching exchange between Kareem and Magic demonstrating how the old veteran revived his passion for the game due to some young upstart. Much like how the captain needed to lean on a young buck to help him off the court, he’ll lean on him one more time to close out the series.
Winning Time makes some clever choices in the build up to and the actual game. Despite the rift between them, McKinney offers an olive branch to Paul on how to strategize against the Sixers. Even though animosity still remains, both have much to gain if the Lakers win. Elsewhere, other members of the organization find different ways to manage the stress. Jerry West and general manager, Bill Sharman, chugging down the Pepto Bismol.
However, game six of the NBA Finals is all about Magic. He suffers from self-doubt and pre-game jitters that manifests into his big-time rival, Larry Bird. We know how closely tied the two will be but it also serves to plant seeds for future seasons when they actually face off. Legends are made in the playoffs and this was Earvin’s coming out party. From the moment he took the opening tip-off, to running the offense to posting up in the paint, Magic did it all.
David Stern’s shrewdness comes into play on Winning Time as well. The fact that the commissioner isn’t in town to hand the trophy demonstrates how little faith anyone had that the Lakers would win. His maneuvering behind the scenes sticks out. It’s accepted that Kareem was voted as the Finals MVP but several sports writers were coerced to change their votes since the center was back in LA. Here, there is one last dig at Magic since Stern places the decision in the rookie’s hands.
Of course, there must also be Jerry Buss conflict in the episode. With the passing of his mother, he needs to fill a spot within his inner circle. The obvious choice would be Jeanie considering she’s already ingrained in the organization but the owner considers his knucklehead sons.
How the two handle themselves at the game show they aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer and it’s exceptionally painful since Jeanie is back in California sorting through grandma’s possessions. It could be the period the show takes place in, but the women characters aren’t treated too nicely. At least Buss comes to his senses and turns to Claire Rothman to be his new treasurer.
There are aspects of “Promised Land” that hold the season finale of Winning Time back. The fictional version of the final game made it seem closer than it really was. The Sixers did come as close two points in the fourth quarter but it’s a curious choice not to have Magic score nine points in the last stretch. That would have been more compelling and cemented his superstar status but instead we have Michael Cooper at the free throw line after taking a bump.
In addition, the Spencer Haywood subplot didn’t lead anywhere. After teasing a sensational outcome in the penultimate episode, it sputtered due to the player’s addiction. As scandalous as Haywood’s dismissal was from the team, the execution of the storyline is lackluster and didn’t warrant being included.
Even with some slight missteps, the season one finale caps off a fun ride of following an iconic team achieve greatness.
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