‘Winning Time’ is an entertaining, highly fictional story of Lakers legends

The word “showtime” evokes two images: first, a rising curtain, and second, a 12-year era (1979-1991) of entertaining Los Angeles Lakers basketball. “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” is a gritty HBO sports drama with Hollywood appeal beyond the Lakers fan base. Based on Jeff Pearlman’s nonfiction book, “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s,” “Winning Time” is a fictionalization of sports’ biggest stars with a cast of excellent pros and rookies. Just remember — it’s all for show.

Andrew D. Bernstein, the showtime-era team photographer, said in a phone interview with The Michigan Daily that the Forum arena spotlight lighting and stunning Lakers play made games feel “kind of like a stage show.” “I really felt my job was to kind of show people what was going on behind the curtain,” Bernstein said. “Winning Time” captures the audience just as Bernstein did: by providing a look behind the glittery curtain (in color film). Unlike Bernstein’s photographs, however, the show’s “inside look” is fictional.

In the late 1970s, the Lakers had an aversion to playoff basketball, and the NBA was one of the least popular leagues in America. The team needed the shakeup of new ownership from late sports and real estate mogul, Jerry Buss. John C. Reilly (“Step Brothers”) portrays the playboy with nearly frightening sleaziness, making him equally loveable and hateable. The actor hits every emotion as he battles his never-ending money- and sex-hungry dissatisfaction from him. The real Buss was a different man, a more soft-spoken womanizer with a passionate love for basketball.

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