Winning Time S2E1 Recap: “One Ring Don’t Make a Dynasty” — Dayenu

The Lakers arrive on the basketball court before a cheering crowd.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

The following recap contains spoilers for Winning Time S2E1 “One Ring Don’t Make a Dynasty” (written by Max Borenstein & Rodney Barnes and directed by Salli Richardson-Whitfield)

Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Winning Time S2E1, “One Ring Don’t Make a Dynasty,” opens with the Lakers defeating the Celtics in Game 1 of the 1984 NBA Finals, and the team exiting Boston Garden amidst a furious mass of Celtics fans assaulting their bus. Coach Pat Riley (Adrien Brody) delivers an awesome, rousing speech here that’s just a reminder of Brody’s strength as an actor. The camera pushing in extremely close to Riley’s face as he growls about “taking their f*cking hearts” is a banger way to open the season. 

With a new season, we get new opening credits! It’s the same song used in the first season, but now the second verse of The Coup’s “My Favorite Mutiny.” The footage playing during the opening credits has also changed, while still focusing on class and cultural disparity, and social unrest with additional shots of Lakers fans displaying their love for the team. The title card also gets a big visual upgrade, shining bright with a Roman numeral “II” appearing behind the title. It feels like it’s announcing that this new season is going to be even bigger and bolder than before. 

Four years earlier in 1980, Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) is flying high, with his face and name appearing on a montage of billboards, magazine covers, and advertisements cut between him enjoying some quality time with the ladies. Cue a hard cut to Magic vehemently denying the claims that he’s gotten a women pregnant. Magic just can’t get out of his own way when it comes to his both literal and figurative lust, but when his lawyers propose an arrangement for hush money to the mother, Magic doesn’t feel right about it. 

Magic Johnson holds a basketball on an outdoor court surrounded by trees.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

I was surprisingly pleased to catch up with our charismatic characters on the business side of things, with Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly), Jerry West (Jason Clarke), Claire Rothman (Gabby Hoffman), Bill Sharman (Brett Cullen), and Frank Mariani (Stephen Adly Guirgis) all convening at a restaurant to talk shop. Buss can’t resist poking Red Auerbach (Michael Chiklis), manager of the Celtics, about not winning first place, but Red counters by boasting his lucrative draft results. Red ends the conversation by explaining the Jewish term “Dayenu,” meaning “it would have been enough,” and cautions Buss against getting greedy with his drive to win. 

After growing closer in the last season’s finale before Magic ruined it in the 11th hour, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes) and Magic are back on mostly unfriendly terms. Kareem is the team captain, but Magic is the star, and that glory has made him hungry to stay in the spotlight even if that comes at Kareem’s expense.

Regardless of how foolhardy he might be, some of the best moments of Winning Time are when Jerry Buss comes up with a new idea to blow a ton of money on. This time, his plan is to spend an exorbitant amount of money on his players. “Add a zero to that number,” he says when told the salary of one of his players, causing Mariani to choke on his scotch and antacids. His reasoning is that getting ahead of the other owners and paying players more will make them work harder. Mariani and Rothman say they can’t afford it, but Jeanie Buss (Hadley Robinson) steps in with a great little monologue about the shift to the status quo of debt and credit, and pitches expanding the Buss sports phenomenon to other things such as tennis and soccer. 

Jerry and Jeanie Buss sit together on the stairs in Jerry's mansion.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

Buss’s ex-wife JoAnn Mueller (Kate Arrington) is having none of it, refusing to sign off on any new investors. Buss had earlier proposed his kids live with him in the mansion, claiming that they need to be a family unit to make this empire work. JoAnn criticizes Buss for putting his ambitions over his kids’ well-being, and his inability to see what they actually want besides his attention. Buss proceeds to purchase franchises for his kids’ passions, with the added bonus that the second mortgage on the mansion will give him an additional line of credit, and the cash flow for the player salaries. 

Also not a fan of the exorbitant player salary is Jerry West. I have to say, I missed Clarke’s performance as the perpetually furious West, because he does it so well. West is low-key one of my favorite characters in the series, just because when he starts on a tirade, he just keeps building and building until he’s absolutely losing his mind with how upset he is. It never gets old. 

I really enjoyed the scene of Cookie (Tamera Tomakili) conversing with an apparition of Magic as he playfully tells her they should get back together, while her new boyfriend reacts with confusion from the bathroom as she answers Magic out loud. Magic taunts Cookie about her “boring-ass nights” with her boyfriend before disappearing with a cartoonish pop sound, and the boyfriend asks if she’s ready for bible study. 

Director Salli Richardson-Whitfield, who helmed several Season 1 episodes and has for this season been added as executive producer, fantastically directs the scene of Magic playing the game and envisioning himself as the lone star on the court. The lighting, editing and music in this sequence is outstanding, culminating in a knee injury that brings him crashing back to reality. 

With Magic incapacitated, the Lakers are floundering, prompting co-coach Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) to introduce “The System,” a playstyle encouraging taking as many shots as quickly as possible and winning the game through a brute-force numbers approach. Nobody on the team is happy about this new direction, although Westhead finally rouses them with a great monologue—“Team beats stars,” he says. The public thinks that without Magic, the Lakers are nothing, but with The System, the team will be the star. When Kareem endorses the plan, the team comes together, and they find tremendous success with The System. The million-dollar question is asked by the commentator, wondering how Magic will slot in once he’s back in action, which is soon according to the doctor. 

Paul Westhead and Pat Riley look frustrated on the court with the crowd behind them.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

As he often does, Buss screws up in how he interacts with those around him. During a friendly Monopoly night, Buss blows up on his son Johnny (Thomas Mann) for trading with his brother Jim (McCabe Slye) so that they both get monopolies. Launching into tirade about business aggression, he keeps going and viciously puts his sons down for their lack of success in life. Jim counters by calling out Jerry’s absenteeism as a father, causing Jerry to storm out. He later expresses regret for this outburst to Jeanie, and she surprisingly kind of takes his side. How is this family going to be split in the future?

It takes a ribbing from his family, seeing Kareem’s newborn child, Cookie finally answering the phone to hear his apology, and his own conscience, but Magic finally comes around and decides to reject the proposal to pay hush money to the mother of his child and be a father. It doesn’t make his lawyers happy, but it earns back the trust from his parents and it’s clear from Magic’s face that he feels he did the right thing.

This supersized premiere brought all of the spectacle, drama, and style that we’ve come to expect from Winning Time, and it’s hardly missed a beat as it brings back its stacked cast of talented players and excellent production design. It’s already bristling with energy, and we’re only on the first week.

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.

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