Winning Time was a lot of things, but it certainly wasn’t dull. The HBO series concluded its 10-episode run on Sunday and we’re already eager to see what Season 2 will bring. The show was entertaining and controversial, which is the best combination when you want to create buzz.
HBO and creator Adam McKay must be giddy over the results, but here is a look at the biggest acting winners from Winning Time:
5. Hadley Robinson
Quote: “My grandma was so smart, so tough, but I think she gave the best of it away. I don’t want to be like her. I want to be like you.”
The start of a dynasty.— Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (@winningtimehbo) December 21, 2021
A first look at John C. Reilly as Jerry Buss, Gaby Hoffman as Claire Rothman, and Hadley Robinson as Jeanie Buss in #WinningTime. pic.twitter.com/aOissGrUsr
It’s not surprising that Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Jerry West disliked Winning Time. Jeanie Buss might be a little happier with how she was portrayed. She was a teenager when her father Jerry Buss bought the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979. The 60-year-old is now the most powerful female owner in American sports. She has the NBA’s third-most valuable team, valued at an estimated $5.5 billion according to Forbes.
Her path to assuming control from her visionary and flamboyant dad wasn’t easy. Hadley Robinson’s Jeanie displayed a vulnerability and a spark of someone who wants more in life but is still figuring it all out. If you enjoyed Robinson in Moxie, you’ll love her here.
4. Quincy Isaiah
Quote: “Ya’ll have no fear. Magic motherfucking Johnson be here.”
We're onto something special pic.twitter.com/luOk1S7m2Z— Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (@winningtimehbo) April 25, 2022
Months ago, no one had ever heard of Quincy Isaiah. Heck, many of the people he went to school with probably wouldn’t immediately recognize the name. Why? His full name is Quincy Isaiah Crosby. He’s a former football player from Division III Kalamazoo College in Michigan. The little-known actor came out of nowhere to land the prized role of Magic Johnson. Isaiah held his own against the star-studded cast.
Isaiah’s size and movement were good enough to make the basketball scenes work. But what came through is his natural charisma. He nailed the famous Magic Johnson smile. The real Magic Johnson has complained about Winning Time. Isaiah responded by telling TMZ: “I really feel like we did a really good job of showing humans and showing a full version of who we at least perceive them to be.”
3. Wood Harris
Quote: “You know what she said? ‘God loves them more.'”
This scene between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Spencer Haywood on #WinningTime— Piñata Farms ? (@pinatafarms) May 2, 2022
An absolutely incredible performance from Wood Harris pic.twitter.com/fLDVt5Z6B7
On every professional team, there’s always somebody who scares everyone else. That guy for the Lakers was Spencer Haywood. In real life, he infamously was suspended after Game 3 of the NBA Finals. He has acknowledged his abuse of crack cocaine. Winning Time alters the story a little by putting Haywood’s ouster up to a team vote. In truth, coach Paul Westhead punished him after falling asleep during a team workout.
Wood Harris captured Haywood’s menace. He was frighteningly unhinged, seemingly unable to break his addiction. It’s not unfamiliar territory for Harris, who played drug kingpin Avon Barksdale in The Wire.
There were a lot of fun moments in the series. But the best scene was a gut-wrenching meeting when Abdul-Jabbar tells Haywood that he’s no longer on the team. Riveting stuff.
2. Sally Field
Quote: “I’m your mother, god damn it. I’ll drag you on the lifeboat if I have to hog-tie you to do it.”
Sally Field was Winning Time’s most accomplished actor. She’s a two-time Oscar winner and a three-time nominee. She could nab an Emmy for playing the Buss family matriarch Jessie. The relationship between Jerry Buss and Jessie was a small but essential part of this story. Field, 75, is one of the older cast members. The California native was 33 during the 1979-80 season and is a Lakers fan. More importantly, she experienced what it was like to be underestimated as a woman in Hollywood.
Field’s Jessie was feisty, somewhat shady, and slightly overbearing. But she was also very protective of her son. The connection between the two produced some of the show’s best moments because Jerry was a bit of a mama’s boy who valued her opinion and her approval. Of all the relationships in Winning Time, this felt the most authentic, thanks largely to Field.
1. John C. Reilly
Quote: “Watch me paddle, motherfuckers.”
Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly), literally, breaks the fourth wall in Acceptable Loss, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, 9th episode. pic.twitter.com/G44jpcH9gU— José Luis Estévez ?? (@JosLuisEstvez1) May 2, 2022
Hard to believe John C. Reilly’s career was, as he put it, “dead in the water.” McKay threw his old pal a life preserver with the starring role of Jerry Buss. McKay chose Reilly over Will Ferrell in a move that damaged the relationship between McKay and Ferrell. We’ll never know what Ferrell’s interpretation would have been, but it seems unlikely that it could have been better than Reilly’s.
Reilly did most of the heavy lifting as the main protagonist and delivered one of the most memorable performances of his career. He could have simply portrayed Buss as an over-the-top playboy, but Reilly gave Buss a combination of earnestness and brashness with a touch of flawed humanity. Buss was easy to root for even when we didn’t agree with some of his choices.