Review: Winning Time

The absurdly enjoyable TV drama shows how managers transformed the NBA in the 1980s.


Hidden near the heart of many prestige ensemble television dramas—think Mad MenThe Sopranos, or even Hill Street Blues back in the day—lies that seemingly unsexiest of topics: management. So it is with HBO's absurdly enjoyable if not quite great Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty. The show chronicles how basketball legend Magic Johnson and real estate hustler Jerry Buss converged upon Los Angeles to transform the NBA.

Based on Jeff Pearlman's 2014 book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s, the series explores how Buss bluffs and sleazeballs his way to genuine entertainment and sporting innovation, and how Johnson navigates the workplace delicacies involved in taking control of a team led by the fiercely intellectual future Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—at the same time launching what would become a remarkably successful business career.

Other management arcs crisscross the drama: Pat Riley goes from aimless semi-hippie retiree to slicked-back coach and leadership theorist, Jerry West recognizes his deficiencies as a coach as a way of discovering his mastery as a general manager, and a number of women in Buss' otherwise Hefner-lite orbit live out feminist tales of empowerment. As ever, it is thrilling to watch human beings discover how to develop the excellence of a group.