How a Key Moment in NBA History Became a TV Hit – Deadline

Who could have imagined that the re-enactment of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 79-80 NBA championship season known as “Showtime” would interest anyone other than diehard hoop fans?

Based on Jeff Perlman’s book, as well as every news report and book written by members of the Lakers, Adam McKay, Max Borenstein and their creative associates took more than a few creative liberties to capture the perfect turning point of the basketball storm as the NBA became a regional entity. sport into a global juggernaut – and turned it into a broadly appealing TV with Victory Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.

Poker player and chemist Jerry Buss puts all his real estate chips on the table to buy a team and selects Michigan State star Magic Johnson as his first draft pick despite already having a gifted point guard in Norm Nixon . Then new genius commissioner David Stern exploits the rivalry between the Magic and Boston Celtics rookie Larry Bird. And then Bass brings sex appeal to the sport in the midst of the wild 80s…Victory timeThe popular 10-episode HBO series took full advantage of its many storylines. In fact, there is so much material left, they are already working on the second season, and maybe beyond, and next season there will be no second wind of the Lakers dynasty, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and part of the Phil Jackson program.

“We came to this as fans of the team and everything that this era represented,” says EP and showrunner Borenstein. “These players and coaches have achieved a lot, but it was also important to me and my staff that this was not just a show made for basketball or sports fans; the concept was more ambitious. We wanted to use it as a lens of 1980s history, with the Showtime-era Lakers as a window into a moment of cultural transformation from economics and race to gender.”

Victory time

Max Borenstein
Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Deadline Hollywood

Borenstein enjoyed a story that included such a rich variety of characters that would reflect “an all-encompassing group of Americans, people from all walks of life, hard-working people forging their own path and writing their own tickets.”

According to him, the idea was not just to tell the story of Wikipedia point by point. “It was an attempt to get inside these people’s heads, to get to know these people that we only knew from their basketball accomplishments at the human level, with the complexity that you can communicate at a level that goes beyond their superhuman accomplishments.”

The scripts were good enough to attract strong actors who delivered outstanding performances, starting with John C. Reilly as Bass. He and his mother (played by Sally Field) were poor as hell, and although he became a self-made titan in real estate, Bass traded that in to own the team and often barely got paid. Reilly was associated with Bass’ underdog status, as the Chicago-born actor was slowly making his way to the top of the charts in comedy and drama himself, despite not having the classic lead character looks.

Jason Clarke brought Lakers great and team consultant Jerry West to life as a tough opponent who couldn’t enjoy looking at his championship ring because it reminded him of all the times his Lakers lost to the Celtics during his reign Boston dynasty. Pat Riley (Adrien Brody) is known as the handsome, model head coach who wore Armani and won nine NBA titles—five with the Lakers.

There are also tragic figures: Jack McKinney (played by Tracey Letts), the lifelong assistant who finally landed a head coaching job with the Lakers and developed the Lakers’ Showtime offensive offense, was on his way to becoming a coaching champion. until a bizarre bike fall nearly kills him and kills his dream, leaving Riley and longtime assistant McKinney and Shakespearean professor Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) to pick up the pieces.

And Spencer Haywood, played touchingly by Wood Harris. A journeyman ostracized for legally challenging a rule requiring young players to play for free in colleges instead of turning pro, Haywood finally got his shot at championship glory but couldn’t overcome his cocaine addiction. Westhead cut him before going to the playoffs, and in a state of addiction, he arranged for the coach to be killed. Throw in actors Hadley Robinson and Gaby Hoffmann, whose Jeanie Bass and Claire Rothman battled rampant sexism to become franchise leaders. Although Bass (who now runs the team) was replete with good ideas, she was overlooked by her father, who preferred his sons as his heirs even though they played no part in the team. It was one of the many controversies of Jerry Buss, who walked around with ridiculously combed hair, his shirt unbuttoned to the navy, and with a barely legal woman under his arm. Yet it was Bass who recognized the talents of Claire Rothman, who served as the punching bag for previous owner Jack Kent Cooke, and made her the team’s treasurer.

Then there are the Lakers players and the young actors who play them. They are led by Solomon Hughes as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but especially Quincy Isaiah. The series is based on his portrayal of a young Magic Johnson who arrives in Los Angeles as a handsome generational talent, blessed with charisma, breaking free and taking full advantage of the womanizing and decadence that his teammates indulged in. dexterous handling of the ball and passes without a glance. His charisma spurred moody star Abdul-Jabbar to up his Hall of Fame game, and by the end of the season, Johnson had gone from rookie to Showtime Lakers frontrunner.

Victory time

Left to right: Sean Small as Larry Bird and Quincy Isaiah as Magic Johnson.
Warrick Page/HBO

Filling Johnson’s shoes with Converse was no easy task, and the producers held many auditions to find the right actor. Hailing from Michigan, like Johnson, Isaiah’s journey to Los Angeles was not accompanied by the fanfare that surrounded the player. Isaiah spent two years unsuccessfully auditioning about 2,000 times for roles while also working as a bartender. Slowly dying of frustration over the roles that were being given to others, he contemplated a detour into the military for some seasoning and life experience, and then the “yes” he got for Victory timehis first major role, fulfilling his dream.

“I’m in London now and I’ve just been recognized, which is crazy to me because I’m just a kid from a small town in Michigan,” he says. “One of our team members told me about his mother and how she went through hard times and watched the show and my performance. I don’t know how or why, but she said watching every Sunday helped her a lot. I’m a beginner so it’s hard for me to understand that my work can do things like this. But it has changed my perception of how this work can affect people. It meant a lot to me.”

In some places, the writers got creative with the facts. For example, Borenstein was particularly touched by ex-Laker Spencer Haywood, who has now turned his life around and motivated others not to give in to the despair of horrific childhood memories and drug addiction. In the book, Haywood’s mother was talking to her son on the phone, realizing that he was in a desperate situation, and threatened to send the police if he did not stop what he planned. In the show, Borenstein and his associates had Abdul-Jabbar confront his former teammate and friend in the most touching encounter ever.

“This is a good example of how we take a little creative freedom to get emotional truth,” says Borenstein. “Spencer Haywood was so articulate and so supportive of the show and it’s incredibly uplifting because he’s portrayed when he’s been going through some really dark times in his life. He was a big fan of the show.”

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Read the digital edition of Deadline’s Emmy Drama magazine here.

“They watched the show and it made them realize how important he was, with the Heywood rule in a fight that allowed these guys to jump right out of high school or without finishing two years of college,” says Borenstein. “It left a strong impression on him and it’s wonderful and well deserved that he now has a profile that he hasn’t had in years. And I think he appreciates the way his story was told, not to exploit, but rather to show how his addiction was connected to his childhood trauma. It was a moment in his life and now he’s talking about recovery and he’s become an incredibly inspiring figure for a lot of people. You can’t tell this story of inspiration without also showing where it came from.”

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