WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the second season of Winning Time
After a crackling first season, Winning Time, series produced by HBO and focused on the rise of the Los Angeles Lakers in the world of basketball, has returned with a second cycle of episodes, which has now also finished in Italy with its broadcast on Sky. The series starts again from 1980the year of the victory of the first ring of the Buss management, and reaches up to 1984, season of the disappointing defeat in the NBA Finals against the hated rivals the Boston Celtics. There were many things in between: the change in the role of coach between Paul Westhead and Pat Riley, the ring won in 1982, the coat received the following year from the Philadelphia 76ers and the definitive consecration of Magic Johnson not only as an icon of sport, but as a true superstar capable of going beyond the very confines of the parquet and showing a new way for the entire movement.
This second season of Winning Time tackles various themes, entering and exiting the playing field and not sparing himself incursions into the private life of the protagonists, above all Magic and Jerry Buss. The common thread always remains the consecration of the Lakers, today one of the most well-known and important clubs in the world, but at the time a bogeyman not always viewed favorably in the world of basketball. The HBO series tells how Los Angeles forever changed not only the NBA, but all of sport, with unscrupulousness and enthusiasm, tracing a line that would become a guiding light in the years to come. The great regret bound to Winning Time it is, instead, the dismissal of his story, because HBO canceled the series, which still would have had a lot to tell. In any case, let’s talk about what we saw in this second season of the TV series distributed in Italy by Sky, capable of confirming all the positive sensations of the first.
Winning Time – How a dynasty is born
As anticipated in the introduction, the underlying theme of this second season of Winning Time what remains is the rise of the Los Angeles Lakers not so much as a team, but as an idea, in the wake of the grandiose first season of the HBO series. The concept of dynasty remains at the center of the story and of Buss’ obsessions, who doesn’t want to limit himself to winning, but wants to build an immortal team, capable of changing the face of the NBA forever. The theme is that of regicide, a classic metaphor in the world of sport, when the newcomer aspires to the winner’s scepter and openly challenges him. In this case, Boston is the king, Los Angeles is the usurper, and the second season of Winning Time perpetuates this contrast, reaching its climax in the last episode, the first of a series of heart-pounding challenges that have marked indelible pages in the history of basketball.
The match between Celtics and Lakers condenses many oppositions: it’s the old against the new, rigor against showtime, tradition against innovation. It is THE rivalry of American basketball and the HBO production manages to outline it at its best, perhaps exasperating some of the more extreme aspects, but perfectly capturing the nature of this clash. A dynasty, he teaches us Winning Time, was born precisely in this way, going to openly challenge authority, imposing itself against the established power and without fear of making strong choices, such as those linked to trust in Pat Riley and Magic Johnson, or to the economic gambles of Jerry Buss which have made today the Los Angeles Lakers one of the most important sports clubs in the world. The open war on the Celtics is precisely the act with which a dynasty is born and the HBO series highlights this element splendidly.
Magic, Showtime and the spectacularization of sport
At the heart of the Lakers dynasty is Magic Johnsonincreasingly involved in the different plots that envelop the story. Winning Time underlines the champion’s contribution not only to the Lakers’ cause, but to the entire world of basketball. We can say that Magic has forever changed the characteristics of this sport, leading it into a new era. During this second season, issues such as those of his contract are addressed, an exceptionality for the time both in terms of salary and above all duration, but also the internal conflict with Paul Westhead, which then led to the dismissal of the latter. If today it is quite common to see coaches succumbing to confrontation with their players, at the time the hierarchical relationships were different and this conflict marked an important seizure of power by the athletes, real brands of the teams and as such assets to be safeguarded any cost. With the Magic-Westhead comparison we are at the dawn of a trend that would become dominant and which is part of the change in sport favored by the Lakers’ attitude.
From this perspective, Magic Johnson is also placed in contrast to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: the two Lakers stars represent two continuous but very different phases of basketball and the transition between them mirrors that of the entire NBA. From the shy and contained Kareem we move on to the acclaimed superstar Magic and in the same way the NBA becomes a glamorous, pop sport, ready to welcome avalanches of dollars and to lend itself completely to show business. The advent of showtime also preserves the trappings of spectacularization of sport, an element widely outlined in Winning Time and which sees the success of the Lakers of Magic and Buss as one of its driving forces.
All these elements constitute the heart of Winning Time, a series capable of describing sport in a broader vision, focusing on the entire contour that best defines sporting events. Without such in-depth work, it would have been difficult to understand why the Lakers, the rivalry between Magic and Bird and Buss’s unscrupulousness changed the NBA forever, bringing it into a new phase, more focused on entertainment, and therefore on profit. The great legacy of the Lakers dynasty is also that, having projected an entire sport in one new era.
Winning Time is the perfect recipe for talking about sport
Beyond the content aspects, what is most convincing in this second season of Winning Timeas in the first, is it narrative style adopted. The HBO series maintains a fast pace, which recalls the constant head turns on the parquet. The protagonists often break the fourth wall, addressing the spectator directly and this symbolizes the centrality of the fan in the new NBA, the role of the spectator who is no longer just a user, but a consumer and as such a further asset of the entire system, to be exploited and monetize. The style used in the story essentially follows the messages that the series wants to send and, in the end, what comes out is a great showa television showtime that best conveys the essence of the revolution that took place on the playing field, because sport itself has become a show.
Winning Time is one of the best TV series about sports because it manages to go beyond it, addresses it from its cultural and social aspects and in the end what happens on the pitch is almost a minority component of the overall plan, because the defeat of the Lakers does not affect the revolution prepared and, regardless of the final results, one understands the weight of the new philosophy of the LA franchise The big regret, as mentioned, is having to say goodbye to this narrative, when it still had a lot to say. We had, for example, just a glimpse of the rivalry between the Lakers and the Celtics, who after 1984 would find themselves in the final twice more, with as many victories for Los Angeles.
After the defeat against Boston which closed the series, the Lakers won three rings and two finals until the decline of the 90s, before the rebirth in 2000 with Shaquille O’Neal e Kobe Bryant and the beginning of a new golden era for the Lakers, a direct result of showtime. It would have been nice to see all this material narrated with the unmistakable style of Winning Time, but the series’ cancellation made that impossible. Too bad, really. For the rest, these two seasons remain one of the best sports TV series, another HBO jewel that showed everyone the recipe right to talk about sport.