‘Winning Time’ cast discuss Showtime Lakers era, portrayal in new series

The dramatized series "Winning Time: The Rise of Laker’s Dynasty" premiered on HBO Sunday

When it comes to basketball culture and the Showtime Lakers era, many would view the two as adjacent to each other.

The Showtime Lakers era, in its prime, included the reign of Earvin “Magic” Johnson and veteran star/ activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, rallying five NBA championships. It would be remiss to not note the talents of James Worthy, AC Green, and Byron Scott.

It wasn’t just what was happening on the court that changed the game of basketball forever, it was what took place during the timeouts, quarter breaks, halftime shows, and even who was sitting courtside. The Showtime era became the hottest ticket in town. 

The dramatized series Winning Time: The Rise of Laker’s Dynasty premiered on HBO Sunday. It follows the players’ lives, both professional and personal, during the Showtime Lakers era.

The series stars Academy Award winners Sally Field and Adrian Brody, the hilarious John C. Reilly, and newcomers Quincy Isaiah & Dr. Solomon Hughes as Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar, respectively.  

TheGrio spoke with the cast to discuss the Showtime Lakers Dynasty, Johnson’s influence and playing real-life characters.

“I think it was the beginning of the new world of sports entertainment, you know, right?” Reily, who plays late majority owner Jerry Buss, shared when reflecting on the Showtime era’s impact on modern basketball. “I mean, Jerry Buss put cheerleaders at a basketball game for the first time, put music at a basketball game for the first time.”

Dr. Hughes discussed the honor of being part of a project that intertwines basketball and entertainment.

We got to do this project that talks about the beginning points of this marriage of entertainment and basketball,” he explained. “I mean, we’re talking about basketball, you know, it’s a sport that is involved in geopolitical conversations, right? It’s the influence that the game has had on the world. It’s incredibly rewarding to have been a part of a project that wants to talk about some of the beginnings of that.”

(Credit: HBO Max/YouTube screenshot)

Two-time Academy Award-winning actress Sally Field, joins the cast as the matriarch to the Buss empire, Jessie Buss. Field grew up in California and was around to watch Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar up close in Los Angeles.

“I have had the great opportunity to meet Magic many times, both as a player, and then when he was no longer a player,” she said. But like Kareem, and what’s interesting about the show is you see him at the very beginning, he’s very young and you see Kareem start to turn into Kareem, and who they eventually evolve into.”

Field also shared that what makes their legacy so special is much bigger than what we saw on the court. 

“These are two very important men, culturally and in every way to their communities, to their country,” she explained. “This sport becomes almost like way, way, way secondary to how they took what sports gave them and used it. It’s always interesting, for anybody, when you get power from your talent, whatever that might be—it could be business—how do you use that talent? Both of them have used it to better the lives of people around them.”

When asked about Magic’s legacy, Isaiah had nothing but high praises: “Basketball culture, Black culture, American culture, it’s all intertwined when it comes to Magic,” he said. 

“He was just pivotal in so many things. Then even dealing with the HIV diagnosis; How he not only said ‘Imma survive this. Imma thrive despite this,’ you know what I mean? And he’s still living, you know what I mean? Like, just still doing great work and just building his brand. He’s about to shoot a documentary—Magic, he just, again, he’s an icon now.”

(Credit: HBO Max/YouTube screenshot)

Reilly, who is known for his comedic skills in films such as Step Brothers and Talladega Nights, portrays the role of the late Jerry Buss. He opened up about the challenges of playing such a well-known character. 

“One of things that I found the most difficult is that this is not someone from the long past.This is someone whose family still owns the Lakers and still live here in LA.”

Reilly continued, “As an empathetic person I cant help but feel what it would be like to have my father portrayed in something. As I was going along, I had a lot of intense things to do with this script. Whether it was the high-living/lifestyle the NBA afforded these guys in the 1970s or going through the intense loss of his mom; all of these different pressures he was under.”

The show follows the ups and downs of Buss’ journey and viewers will see Reilly in a new light. 

As the show officially aired this weekend, Brody who plays the role of Pat Riley, stated these sentiments when reflecting on the series and the legacy, “It’s the birthplace of basketball and the Lakers as we know it.”

Watch the start of one of the most exciting eras of basketball now streaming on HBO/HBO Max with new episodes every Sunday.