Pro-sports owners have a pretty bad reputation in our society.
Even flamboyant celebrity owners like Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban are portrayed as fun swashbuckling villains at best.
To some extent I understand it. It’s an old rich white “owner” sitting around watching a bunch of non-white guys perform blue-collar labor for him. That’s a little icky.
And, for me, there is nothing more loathsome than a passive, incompetent owner who cares more about profit than winning games for fans. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, longtime New York Jets owner Woody Johnson).
However, owners contribute more than they are given credit for. Players do the visible work, but the owners and the league set the stage that makes games exciting.
For example, you couldn’t pay me to waste four hours watching athletes playing a meaningless game in a boring park. However, I will eagerly shell out hundreds of dollars this Sunday to watch a meaningful MLB game at beautiful Camden Yards.
“Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” is the most relentlessly entertaining and enjoyable television drama in years.
John C. Reilly plays Dr. Jerry Buss. Buss was a Los Angeles real estate tycoon, enthusiastic womanizer, and sincere NBA fan. His fantasy was to turn The Los Angeles Lakers into a Championship team AND the hottest sports draw in the city.
The show never tries to sugarcoat Dr. Buss’s personal flaws. He was a terrible husband, a questionable father, and a dirty old man. But his dream for the Lakers was pure and he risked everything he had to make it happen.
Jerry Buss may not have been a good man. But he is the good guy in “Winning Time.” We see how one owner’s lust for life can bring a whole lot of joy to a city.
Dr. Buss finds a perfect partner in rookie point guard Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah). Young Magic shares the owner’s positivity and penchant for debauchery.
The parallels between Buss and Johnson are interesting. They are great for Los Angeles. And terrible for the people closest to them.
We always root for Magic. But the relationship with his high school sweetheart Cookie is troubling. Magic feels an intense possessiveness that he mistakes for love. He cares enough to sabotage Cookie’s relationship with her boyfriend but Magic never even considers being faithful to her.
Magic Johnson inevitably clashes with the veteran captain of the team: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes). They are polar opposites.
Abdul-Jabbar is a dependable boyfriend and a pious, well-behaved citizen.
However, he has no desire to spread joy to the people of Los Angeles. Abdul-Jabbar feels disdain for the city, disdain for White America, disdain for the NBA, and disdain for himself for cooperating with the league for personal profit.
It is a powerful portrait of a man trying to move past his own paralyzing hate.
The amazing thing about “Winning Time” is that the great characters are just icing on the cake. What makes the series special is that every minute is a delight to watch. I eagerly look forward to each new episode. I feel visceral disappointment when the closing credits start rolling. I always want more.
I urge you turn on HBO (or HBO Max streaming service) every Sunday and get to know the 1979-1980 Los Angeles Lakers. Especially Dr. Jerry Buss: the coolest team owner you’ve ever seen.