Winning Time S1E10: “Promised Land” — The Children of Destiny

Chick Hearn excitedly commentates on the Lakers game.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

The following contains spoilers for Winning Time S1E10, “Promised Land” (directed by Salli Richardson-Whitfield and written by Max Borenstein & Rodney Barnes)

Here we are: Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, originally envisioned as a limited series but now renewed for a second season, has arrived at the eponymous “Winning Time.” I suppose that’s an implicit suggestion that this episode will end in victory, but “Promised Land” is no less exciting for it. 

In a season of satisfying moments, “Promised Land” packs even more into the finale. There are so many exciting and memorable scenes in this final hour of the first season. From Magic arguing with an imagined Larry Bird on the television, to a Pepto Bismol-guzzling, cursing Jerry West storming through the back hallways of the stadium to avoid stressing about the game, to Magic proposing a speed-focused strategy in Kareem’s absence supplemented by legendarily awful singing uniting the team, the tenth episode of this first season is riveting. 

After a slightly anemic penultimate episode, the energy is mostly back for the finale. In particular, the editing during the final match, showing multiple characters in separate frames engrossed in the game, really punctuated the excitement for the outcome. Another highlight was the slow-motion exhibition of the Lakers’ success contrasted with Kareem’s ankle injury. There were a handful of anxiety-inducing moments this week, and director Salli Richardson-Whitfield settles comfortably into the rhythm the series has been operating on so far. 

Magic and Kareem hold onto each other on the court.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

Buss still isn’t doing exactly well: when Claire attempts to offer condolences for Jerry’s loss, he immediately pivots to “assume” she’s talking about Kareem being off the table for the final game. Also, his attempts to “bring more family” into the business and overlooking the very adept Jeanie in favor of his two sons really grated on me. Jeanie can’t catch a break, but she, in my opinion, is obviously the secret sauce to the franchise’s continued success on an operational level.

In terms of wrapping up some of the conflicts that have evolved so far in the season, the finale resolves some, but seemingly not all of them fully. There’s not as much time as expected spent on Haywood’s plot to assassinate the Lakers, although he does hang out with his redneck friends in preparation for the hit. It culminates in Kareem visiting Haywood, and after a tense exchange a miserable Haywood dissolves into tears in Kareem’s arms, stricken with guilt for his failure to life up to his promise to his friend to kick his drug habit. It remains to be seen what will happen with his buddies in Season 2. 

The McKinney/Westhead conflict, on the other hand, comes to a conclusion with McKinney setting aside his anger for his friend, accepting Jerry’s decision and delivering to Westhead his own notes for the final matchup against Philadelphia. It’s kind of an abrupt change, but McKinney referring to Westhead as “coach” without any notable facetiousness and anxiously tuning into the game to cheer on Westhead was a nice cap on that relationship. It’s still astonishing to me that literally everyone on this show has such engaging and cohesive chemistry with each other. Aside from the basketball, Winning Time thrives on the conversations between the characters, and those conversations are never boring thanks to the universally excellent performances.

Given how Magic and Larry Bird have clashed so far in the season, and how Bird has been framed as a colossal jerk, it was interesting to see how invested Bird was in the game. One of his buddies makes a racist comment, which Bird immediately shuts down, saying “He’s there, I ain’t”—which I took as Bird accepting the Lakers’ talent and curious as to their success. This could well be planting the seeds for a respectful rivalry between Magic and Bird (or at the least, frenemies), and a softening of Bird’s brutally harsh demeanor. That said, Pat revealing to Magic that he lost the Rookie of the Year vote to Bird by 63 to 3 is what really gives Magic that final push when he’s at his point of exhaustion. Was that the real vote, or did Pat fudge the numbers to energize his rookie?

Pat and Westhead stand on the sidelines of the game.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

My favorite scene of the finale comes when Kareem, knowing he will not be playing in the final game, summons Magic for a conversation. Confiding in Magic that he’s out before telling anyone else shows how the two have grown as friends, and it’s clear that while Magic’s constant cheerfulness is kind of grating on the captain, he also kind of appreciates it. It’s such a great moment between the two, especially when Kareem reminds Magic that he is owed one more hug for one more win, handing him his jersey. 

Later, in one of the most frustrating moments of the season, Magic ends up not accepting Kareem’s MVP award on his behalf, but just accepting it for himself. Damn you, Magic! I wanted to reach through the screen and shake the kid. Kareem was rooting for him! Cap jumped onto his feet, ignoring his injury, overjoyed that Magic was utilizing the Skyhook that Kareem taught him, and screamed triumphantly out of his backyard. To be fair, Magic did acknowledge Kareem’s impact on the team, but Kareem deserved that MVP award wholeheartedly and I’m concerned for their relationship going forward. I suspect that Kareem will harbor some resentment in Season 2, but I hope they patch things up. 

I have absolutely loved watching the Lakers rise to glory in Winning Time’s first season, ten hours of sharply written, excellently acts, and surprisingly stylish television with a small handful of missteps that are mostly easy to look past. To once again reiterate, my interest in basketball is basically non-existent, and I know pretty much nothing about these people and their stories, but digesting via this show has been a delight, and while you’ll still be hard-pressed to get me to watch an actual game of basketball, you can bet I’ll be tuning in Day 1 for the Season 2 premiere.

Written by Hawk Ripjaw

Hawk Ripjaw has been sharing his opinion on film and TV since his early teens, when the local public library gave away prizes for submissions to their newsletter. Since then, he's been writing for local newspapers, international video game sites, booze-themed movie websites, and anywhere else he can throw around some media passion. He watched the Mike Myers Cat in the Hat movie over 50 times in two years, for science.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *