Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty has a family dynamic at its heart

Winning Time Season 2 episode 5, photo provided by Warner Bros Discovery
Winning Time Season 2 episode 5, photo provided by Warner Bros Discovery /

On the HBO show, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, the dramatic portrayal of pivotal moments in NBA history captivated viewers in Season 1 and has everyone eagerly anticipating the new Season 2 episodes. Although the game outcomes might be known, it is the storylines beyond the court that captivate the viewers. As Salli Richardson-Whitfield, both executive producer and episodic director for Season 2, appreciate, family dynamics have a significant influence on everyone involved.

For those unfamiliar with Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, the series follows the LA Lakers as the team battles for championships in the early 80s. In Season 1, the storyline lines focused on Irvin “Magic” Johnson joining the team, Jerry Buss devising a creative business approach to NBA team management, and the ups and downs of building a basketball empire. For Season 2, the series steps into another roller-coaster series of events. From player injuries and contract negotiations to team rivalries and personality conflicts, the win/loss column may not capture the real outcome for all the people involved.

During a recent conversation with Richardson-Whitfield, the discussion moved away from shooting the perfect lay-up and focused on the men behind the athletic greatness. As seen in many of the Season 2 episodes, revealing the characters’ vulnerabilities alongside their triumphs draws the viewers into the storyline.

Winning Time Season 2
Winning Time Season 2, Episode 1, photo provided by Warner Bros Discovery /

As she said, “We get to know where your demons are. With these iconic characters, where we didn’t have any social media back then, they were able to put a little polish on it and you only saw the good stuff.” While that notion may be true, appreciating those flaws seems to make their story more relatable. Although Richardson-Whitfield admitted, “powerful people may have big egos, but that concept can drive them to separate themselves from the pack.”

Speaking to some of the characters, Richardson-Whitfield reflected that Jerry Buss might not be the perfect father nor is Magic the perfect boyfriend. Still, they did love their family and wanted the best for them. To achieve in their other areas, their personal life suffered. It might not be right or viewed in a positive light, but it is part of their story. Those mistakes were as important as their successes.

While the men often bathe in the spotlight, their moment of glory cannot be achieved without the people surrounding them. In Winning Time, the women are integral to pushing the conversation forward.

Although Richardson-Whitfield might love to see more women’s voices, she admitted that “women were not a big voice during this particular timeframe. It was a man’s world.” Still, she thought it was important to highlight those moments where Cookie, Magic’s mother, or even Jeanie Buss were able to influence the men. As she mentioned, “the men needed these women to succeed.”

Winning Time Season 2
Winning Time Season 2 Episode 5, photo provided by Warner Bros Discovery /

Beyond the personal family dynamics, the team is another family unit. Throughout the season, there are moments of fighting contrasted with celebration. Those love/hate moments can be similar to what siblings encounter.

When asked about that concept in Winning Time Season 2, Richardson-Whitfield commented that even those people who are not as well-versed in the sports world can understand the family concept on a team. Appreciating the good and the bad is just as important as the final score on the board. As she said, “seeing how important it is to have a strong leader and a strong family unit to succeed” is vital to the series.

In some ways, the reason why Winning Time appeals to a broader audience is that the show is not just about basketball. While there will be people who analyze every court sequence to ensure historical accuracy, the reality is that this series is about people, their lives, and how they interact with each other.

During a candid moment, Richardson-Whitfield mentioned that the HBO series might be the perfect show to take the place of Succession. In the world of crazy drama and family dynamics, Winning Time is racking up the points.

While Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty might give a glimpse into NBA history, the reality is that the look back is just as much a look at the present and future. Sports fans might have more access to appreciating the players, teams, and personalities’ life stories. But, how and why those players and industry insiders react to each other can impact which team holds that championship trophy high at the end of each season. The slam dunk might make the jaw-dropping photo, but the real story might be told from the bench.

Salli Richardson-Whitfield serves as the executive producer and director for four episodes of Winning Time Season 2. In addition, she has numerous directing, producing, and acting credits on shows such as Eureka, Luke Cage, and The Gilded Age.

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Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty airs new episodes on HBO on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. MAX streams aired episodes from both Season 1 and Season 2.