Winning Time (HBO Max) - Adam McKay takes on the Showtime Lakers era

I wonder if my friend from college will watch this series. Back in the mid 90s I once told him that I’d read an article that basketball got really low ratings and wasn’t that popular in the 70s until it was revived in popularity by the Lakes and Celtics. He made fun of me and plain didn’t believe me. Said the 70s was the time of Dr. J and all the most famous and best players. I was telling him it wasn’t popular back then? Get the fuck outta here with that shit. “Read an article”. Sheeeet.

(This was pre-internet, kind of. We only used it back then to research stuff for Chemistry classes).

Oh man, no wonder this looks so awesome, the DPs shot coverage with genuine old-school Ikegami tube cameras sourced from old regional TV networks that had been unused for like 35-40 years. One article said only like half of them worked! I adore the double, fuzzy image the real McCoy produces. Digital’s catching up, but it always looks to clean for me when trying to ape the faded 70s look.

I’m just glad that the series – like the book it is based upon – is giving poor Jack McKinney his due rewards for being the inventor of Showtime basketball.

Also I’m hoping desperately to see the chaos of the press conference at which Pat Riley pretty much accidentally becomes the coach of the Lakers.

And I’m hoping we get to see Adrien Brody show us how Riley transformed himself from woebegone shlumph to Armani suit-wearing super coach.

My major issue with Brody is he’s 10 years too old for the part, and they’re not trying a lot to de-age him. Otherwise he’s perfect.

I mean, here’s Riley and Westhead when Riley was the assistant:

I’m sure they’re taking some liberties for dramatic effect (for instance, Riley became Chick Hearn’s color guy in 1977) but…they’re not too far off either.

One episode in and I’m hooked! This MSU alumn (1979-83) is appreciating the little details, like Magic in his Lake Lansing t-shirt. That humiliation at the hands of Norm Nixon was brutal.

So glad they went with Reilly over Ferrell.

Another fantastic episode.

But I had to look: no evidence baby Kobe Bryant was at that game, but he was a year old at the time and his father was playing for the Clippers.

Also, Paula Abdul!!!

But I really appreciated the look into Kareem. In many ways, he is right up there with Ali in terms of his story being very much America’s story during the 1960s and 70s.

There are certainly parallels between Ali and Kareem, but they only go so far.

Ali was innately media savvy. He projected a likability side by side with his rebellion versus the establishment that earned him a legion of fans – especially young fans. Those under 30.

In the book Showtime, Jeff Pearlman makes a pretty good case that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1970s and 1980s was maybe one of the most hated “big name” athletes on the scene. In his telling of the Kareem story, Abdul-Jabbar has a basketball IQ of 500, an intellectual IQ of 200, and a social IQ of about 10. In fact, at one point he briefly suggests that Kareem might be on the spectrum.

The scene in episode one where Kareem tells the Airplane kid who asks for an autograph to fuck off? That was how Abdul-Jabbar treated all autograph seekers. He was (at least then) inherently mistrustful and seethed at pretty much everyone at various times. I think Ali probably had a rage inside him too…but the Champ had this inner light, too, this warmth for people that allowed him to compartmentalize his anger and mistrust in ways that I’m not sure Kareem ever could.

EDIT: And for the record, I think it’s pretty obvious that the mistrust and anger by both men was VERY well placed and quite rational. But if part of your job is to sell tickets to yourself, you’ve got to be able to put up a front. And Kareem just couldn’t. He’s just a fascinatingly complex and brilliant man.

Holy shit. On a rewatch I just realized that the actor playing Spencer Haywood is none other than Wood Harris – probably best known for playing Avon Barksdale in The Wire.

Yeah, I knew I recognized the voice and mannerism, but I had to go to IMDB to confirm it was him.

If you liked this episode I highly recommend the doc on Kareem that is also on HBO max. Watch Kareem: Minority of One (HBO) - Stream Movies | HBO Max

As a middle aged guy trying to transition to the "everythings gonna work out ok " stage of my life I was not prepared for the brutality of that last scene. Trying to go to sleep directly after watching that did not work out great for me.

I’m just a basketball player I suppose - and I want my corner shots.

The companion podcast for this is really good. Hosted by one of the writers (who also plays the forum security guard). He seems to have great chemistry with everybody and it’s nicely edited but not too much. No ads either.

Much better than the after show talk show thing with Rick fox where everybody seems uncomfortable and is basically looking at their watches the whole time.

Very nice! I think the current season is likely to end with the end of the 1980 playoffs (no spoilers just in case).

The 80-81 and start of the 81-82 seasons were pretty turbulent. And then we get one of the craziest, most hilarious press conferences in professional sports history… I’m imagining season 2 will cover those two NBA seasons at least, culminating in the end of the 82 playoffs.

Kareem is not a fan. He’s an amazing writer, but I completely disagree about him thinking the show is boring. Maybe it’s factually inaccurate, but I do not find it boring!

Kareem: “I never said ‘Fuck off’ to a child requesting an autograph”

Every sportswriter who covered Kareem during his career: “Yeah, he usually said something a lot nastier.”

Looks like this might be heading to Ugly Town.

I continue to be amused by the real folks involved taking great umbrage with the series…insomuch as it hews REALLY closely to the book. They exaggerate West (from the book portrayal) a decent bit for TV, but his struggles to keep his brain under control are fairly well documented in the book.

And again, I am laughing about Magic being not thrilled about having his womanizing ways portrayed, or that Kareem is angry that his portrayal makes him look like a dick. Fellas, I hate to break it to you, but a number of people who covered your careers on the regular are still very much alive and wrote at length about those particular things…