Winning Time S2E3 Recap: “The Second Coming” — Pecking Order

Larry Bird steps onto the Indiana State Sycamores basketball court.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

The following recap contains spoilers for Winning Time S2E3 “The Second Coming” (written by Max Borenstein & Rodney Barnes & Rebecca Bertuch and directed by Todd Banhazl)

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.

This week in Winning Time, we had less action on the court, but plenty of drama off of it. Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) and Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) watch the footage of the Celtics celebrating their 1981 world championship win, with Red Auerbach (Michael Chiklis) and Larry Bird (Sean Patrick Small) seeming to blow cigar smoke directly out of the television screen into into the faces of their respective rivals.

A good deal of this week was spent flashing back to Bird’s origins, starting in 1974 when he visits his father, Joe, in French Lick, Indiana. We learn that the elder Bird is late on payments to his ex-wife, and remarks that everyone would be better off if he wasn’t around. Still, he’s jovial enough, and excited to see his son, but that cheer vanishes as soon as Larry tells him he dropped out of college. He angrily criticizes Larry for not taking the opportunity for a better life, and once alone, pulls out a binder stuffed with newspaper clippings of Larry’s success on the court. Sadly, Joe Bird took his own life a year later.

Magic was very unlikeable this week, although we start off feeling maybe a little sorry for him as his failure in the last episode is weighing heavily on him. At a basketball camp for kids, he suddenly finds himself imaging the kids insulting him repeatedly. Magic also asks Cooper (Delante Desouza) about his contract extension, and is surprised when Cooper excitedly talks about how much extra money was in it for him.

Pat Riley and Paul Westhead stand in the doorway of Westhead's office.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

In an attempt to figure out why that game went so wrong, Jerry sits down with multiple people in his circle. Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) is upset that he doesn’t have enough authority to lead the team. Jerry West (Jason Clarke) thinks that Paul has too much authority. Pat Riley (Adrien Brody), when asked if the team respects Paul, doesn’t seem confident in his reply in the affirmative. Norm Nixon (DeVaughn Nixon) immediately points to Magic as the reason for the team’s failure. Jerry is upset by that answer, still hung up on Norm’s comments to the press. Norm blows straight past that comment to point out how Magic “had to be the hero” and attempt a bad shot instead of passing the ball. I loved the editing of all of these conversations: Jerry asks a question, the person on the other side of the desk responds, then Jerry asks another question, and the shot is a different person, weaving all of the conversations together. 

At the customary family Monopoly night, Jeanie (Hadley Robinson) asks her father for a little extra money for a player salary for her tennis franchise. Buss cuts her off, citing “no business at the table.” Jeanie’s face drops. “Since when?” she asks. “Since it’s my turn!” Buss gleefully gets Honey to blow on the dice for luck as his daughter looks on in confusion and anger. Just last week, Buss turned a family game night into a cruel tirade against his sons about business, but now that he’s got Honey (Ari Graynor) on his arm, he seems to be loosening up a bit, while his daughter is still locked in extreme business mode all day, every day. Later in the episode, Jeanie trades the tennis player her brother Johnny (Thomas Mann) was dating, causing him to explode and call Jeanie out on being a workaholic striving for her father’s affection. We all know he’s right, and I think she does, too. 

Tensions are getting thicker between Paul, West, and Pat. Paul is gunning to sign on player Mitch Kupchak, which West hates, and when West summons Pat for his opinion, it is revealed that Pat wasn’t even told there was going to be a meeting. On top of that, Paul sent his own scout, Mike Thibault (Steven Pritchard) to check out Kupchak without anyone else knowing, and is hiring Thibault as an additional assistant coach. 

Magic Johnson talks on the phone.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

Paul insists that Thibault’s hiring is a response to West pushing for Thompson in the last season, and assures Pat that they’re good. But things finally come to a head when Paul trades Jim Chones (Newton Mayenge) without telling Pat. Pat confronts Paul, and we get another excellent fiery exchange between Brody and Segel. Paul says that Pat has been undermining him, and demands that he respect the fact that he is Paul’s lieutenant. Pat ends the conversation with a curt “F*ck you” before leaving, and I really hope that isn’t the end for these two. 

Back in the ’70s, Larry Bird is as hot a commodity as they come. Bill Hodges (Timothy Horner), Assistant coach for Indiana State University, has to almost literally beg Bird to, at the very least, come try out. Bird eventually does, showing up and playing in jeans (we’re told that this is accurate to what actually happened). Bird handily trounces everyone on the court. A few years later, Red visits Bird at his home, attempting to recruit him. This is a great exchange, and Chiklis has that smoldering energy that gives the monologue convincing Bird to join the Celtics a real kick. 

Magic asks Buss for an extension past his five years, in the interest of securing his role on the Lakers for the duration of his career. Buss makes the offer: 25 years for 25 million dollars. But he also gives Magic the hard truth, that he has to stop causing problems with the rest of the team if he’s being elevated above them. And yet, Magic still can’t seem to grasp the concept that he is the toxicity. 

Speaking of toxic, Magic really outdoes himself towards the end of the episode. Talking on the phone with Cookie (Tamera Tomakili), Magic insists that they’ll eventually get back together, and when Cookie says even if they did, she wouldn’t live in LA, Magic blows up on her and slams the receiver down. The entitlement is infuriating. Secondly, Buss summons Norm to his mansion, and what Norm thinks is a one-on-one hangout is actually Buss getting him and Magic to reconcile. Buss is still sour about Norm’s comments to the press, and while Buss and Norm are seated at the table and Buss tries to get Norm to speak his mind about his teammate, Magic struts around the table, munching on snacks like he owns the place. I hated him this week. 

In 1981, Bird, wearing his Celtics jacket, visits the cottage where his dad died, and adds more clippings of his performance to the book his dad kept. He pulls out a clipping of Magic, and while we know where things are headed, there’s still an undeniable sense of building momentum to this rivalry. We seem to be mostly up to speed on Bird’s story, so next week we should be seeing where the tensions growing tonight will go. 

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 *