Magic Johnson is “not looking forward to” watching Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, HBO Max’s electrifying new series about the Johnson-led Los Angeles NBA powerhouse’s seminal “Showtime” era in the 1980s.
Those words had to be tough for breakout star Quincy Isaiah to hear just months before the show’s premiere, especially now that critics are weighing in with favorable early reviews — the series currently boasts a 100 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes — and predictions that the series is destined to be a hit.
“Of course you want the person that you're portraying, if they're still alive, to appreciate at least your part in it,” Isaiah told us recently during a virtual press day for the series when he was joined by John C. Reilly. “And my biggest thing with him is just [to] acknowledge that I'm sitting right here talking to you because of the brilliant life that he's lived.
“He has made himself an icon, not only in basketball, but in the business world and being an advocate for HIV. He's literally changed my life and the lives of countless others. … So the fact that he lived his life is enough for me.”
In his November comments to TMZ, Johnson references his own Lakers show in the works, as well as one from current Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, portrayed as a 19-year-old upstart in Winning Time by Hadley Robinson (Moxie). For her part, Robinson says she didn’t reach out to Buss, who in 2020 became the first controlling female owner to win an NBA title, for creative reasons.
“I didn’t want any initial bias in any way, and I didn't want to fall into the trap of imitation or anything like that,” the actress explains. “I wanted to stay dedicated to the script as well in the story because it is this dramatization of reality.”
Reilly, who is drawing raves for his energetic and magnetic leading performance as the team’s owner and unlikely sports visionary Jerry Buss, didn’t have the option. The elder Buss died in 2013 at age 80.
“As far as accuracy, I don't know,” Reilly says about the truthfulness of his depiction, which paints Buss as charming, optimistic and whip-smart, if also a womanizing playboy (in real life Buss was known to spend plenty a night at the actual Playboy Mansion). “I don't think anybody really knows. And the guy who really knows is not on this earth anymore, Dr. Jerry Buss, God rest his soul.
“He was a very brilliant man. He was a math genius. He was a real estate tycoon. One of the things he traded for the team was the Chrysler Building. He slid the deed for the Chrysler Building across the table. It’s hard to overestimate the accomplishments of Dr. Jerry Buss. But I did my best to honor his memory and I hope his family's happy with it.”
Though Reilly grew up in Chicago, he says his loyalties over the years have shifted from the Bulls to the Lakers as he has made his home in Los Angeles for the past few decades.
But the cast member with the most Lakers fan cred may surprise you.
“There’s no question in my mind it’s Sally Field,” Reilly says.
Field, who plays Jerry’s mother, Jessie Buss, is a Pasadena native who regularly attended Lakers games with her sons in the ’80s and remains a die-hard to this day.
“I think they would give me that title,” Field says of her cast mates. “I think I was the one that would come in and just be all irate because of what happened to the game, or [because current Laker star Anthony Davis] is hurt again. ‘What the hell? That was the biggest foul I ever saw! So yeah, I think I would have to be right up there with the biggest, because it was my communication with my sons. It still is.”
Jason Segel, who hails from the nearby Pacific Palisades and plays coach Paul Westhead, is happy to yield to Field.
“That was my team growing up. It’s still my team. … Sally can take the title from me. I defer to Sally Field on all things.”
Winning Time premieres March 6 on HBO Max.
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo
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