HBO’s “Winning Time” is the Perfect Pandemic Watch

I just finished Season One of HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers, and it has to be one of the best dramas of the last few years. While it’s about sports, the NBA, basketball, and the Lakers…all of these themes are just a backdrop. Really, it is about human perseverance in the face of adversity. And, these days, couldn’t we all use a show about beating the odds?

Because the pandemic made it seem like the odds were stacked against all of us. Either you would get COVID, or someone you know would get COVID, or your life would be interrupted by COVID. We were all victims of the mathematics of the spread of pathogens. But are the odds our fate? Maybe not.

Think about the Ukrainian military. It has stood up against, and is in many ways defeating, the mighty Russians. Who would have thought it? At the beginning of that war, even the most pro-Ukrainian analysts gave little to no chance for the underdogs to last even a week.

Or, consider this weekend’s Kentucky Derby. An 80-1 odds long-shot appropriately named Lucky Strike came from the back of the pack, all the way to the front, to claim the most prestigious victory in horse racing. How could one not be inspired to watch that determined animal will its way to the winner’s circle? It’s proof that perseverance and competition are not just the dominions of humanity.

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers – is one of those shows, that you think about even after you are done watching. Because the lessons it teaches are not about basketball games that were played nearly half a century ago. But rather, the show is about the challenges each player, and every character, must overcome to achieve success.

The acting in the show is excellent. The young talents who play Earvin Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, are superb. Of course, Sally Field who is the protagonist’s mother is world-class (as always). Adrien Brody, who is Pat Riley, is also excellent. I had my doubts when I heard the Jewish actor was playing the tough-guy, Irish New Yorker Riley. But, Brody rose to the occasion even though every time I saw him, I said to myself “that’s Adrien Brody and not Pat Riley.” Still, that’s not Brody’s fault nor does it take away from the performance.

The star of the show, and the protagonist, is Dr. Jerry Busse, portrayed by John C. Reilly. It’s hard to tell if Dr. Busse is a grown man, or a little boy in a grown man’s body. But whatever the answer, Busse is the man and if you aren’t cheering for him by the end of the first season, then you must be a cold-hearted Celtics fan. I have little doubt that Reilly will win some accolades during awards season for his performance.

To describe my favorite scenes in the show, would be giving away spoilers. So, I won’t get into them. That being said, I strongly recommend you watch the show. It’s about winning against all of the odds; and couldn’t we all use some of that right now?