Winning Time S2E6 Recap: “Beat L.A.” — You Can Always Go Back to Real Estate

Jeanie Buss leans on a banister on the sidelines of an empty stadium.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

The following recap contains spoilers for Winning Time S2E6 “Beat L.A.” (written by Max Borenstein & Rodney Barnes & Jim Hecht 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.

We open on the conclusion of the 1982 NBA championships as the Lakers players and management burst triumphantly into the locker room, spraying each other with champagne and celebrating their victory against the Sixers. Magic (Quincy Isaiah), in narration, rejects the little voice one might get saying “You can’t do it,” proclaiming his spot at the top of the world as the camera zooms into a news article posted on the wall wondering when Magic and Larry Bird (Sean Patcik Small) will face off again. 

One year later, the championship once again comes down between the Lakers and Sixers. Team morale is high, and the boys are horsing around a bit too much for Coach Pat Riley (Adrien Brody). He angrily attempts to calm his team down, reminding them that the Sixers are out for revenge, and this is not a game they can get too comfortable with. 

Unfortunately, Pat is completely right: not only did the Sixers come for vengeance, it’s an absolute bloodbath. Philadelphia almost literally runs circles around the Lakers, sweeping them in a humiliating series of games where they synergize as the Lakers fail to cohere. Magic, narrating once again, hearkens back to that little voice he mentioned, and how loud it is now. A dejected Buss (John C. Reilly) sits in the empty, darkening stadium, lamenting to Jeanie (Hadley Robinson) how Red (Michael Chiklis) predicted this downfall. “Well, you can always go back to real estate,” Jeanie responds. 

Pat Riley stands with his arms outstretched on the sidelines of the stadium.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

When it comes to the relationship between Buss and Honey (Ari Graynor), the cracks are starting to show, and they are getting very ugly very quickly. When Honey tried to grasp her husband’s hand as the Lakers floundered in the previous scene, he jerked his hand away. Later, when on the phone angrily trying to figure out his roster in the early morning hours, Honey suddenly returns home from a night out partying. It’s an uncomfortable situation, and frankly an irritating one: Buss is upset that Honey was out all night, and when she counters by pointing out his distance given his obsession with perfecting the Lakers, he gets angry, acting as though he is not at fault, and bristles even further when Honey alludes to his party animal lifestyle. 

Things don’t improve between them, and Buss comes home one day to find Honey loading up her suitcase after she has learned that Buss never formally finalized the divorce with JoAnn. Buss frantically insists that it was just a matter of him not signing the paperwork, but it’s just one more nail in a coffin that’s been getting sealed shut as his obsession with seeing the Lakers reign supreme overrides everything else in his life. It’s hard to feel sorry for Buss given how he’s treated Honey, and I still can’t give him much sympathy when Honey later sues him for $100 million.

It’s been clear since their slaughter in the last championships that the Lakers need a roster shakeup. West (Jason Clarke), Bill (Brett Cullen) and Pat have possibly secured a draft pick for the promising Byron Scott, but the Clippers are going to need a trade, and the three determine that Norm Nixon (DeVaughn Nixon) is going to have to be the one to go. Just as Pat did earlier in the season, West seems to be showing some favoritism towards Magic when he confides in him regarding this trade, even going so far as to give Magic veto power and telling him he’s who the other players look to. Surely this has to backfire at some point, especially since Magic is silent about his knowledge of the trade before the fact, and his outward support for Norm. 

Norm does get his revenge of sorts: the Clippers defeat the Lakers when they meet again, which does no favors for Pat’s blood pressure as he agonizes over the team’s lack of pure hunger for victory. If I’m being honest, Chris (Gillian Jacobs) is a saint for putting up with Pat’s constant stressing, supporting her husband while getting almost nothing in return. 

Although my Lakers knowledge is almost entirely limited to what I’ve seen in Winning Time, I was aware that Magic and Cookie (Tamera Tomakili) are married to this day. As such, I was wondering how Magic would actually win her back. He makes a surprise visit to her presentation at a fashion expo, which instantly turns around her floundering exhibit. She finally takes him back, prompting Magic to stand up in a crowded restaurant and declare himself off the market, and eventually proposing to her. 

Magic and Cookie sit together at a fashion expo.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

Kareem (Solomon Hughes)’s house burning down leads what might be the best concluding segment of an episode so far. While a devastated Kareem is concerned only for the fact that his partner and son did not perish in the blaze, all of his music memorabilia were destroyed. Kareem wants nothing to do with the fans clamoring for him at the stadium, given an earlier conversation with his agent Tom Collins (Jay Mohr) in which it’s implied he’s just an entertainment commodity. But the fans aren’t there to harass him and ask questions—they’ve brought their own vinyls to help Kareem rebuild his destroyed collection, and show support. 

Coming into the locker room with a hefty stack of donated music, Kareem sits his team down and delivers a fantastic speech about how much they mean to their fans: victories and losses are felt by the fans just as much as the players, and they inspire their fans for generations. It’s such a good one-two punch from Kareem’s realization at how much the fans love him, and how he uses that to rally his team. 

The 1984 playoffs are punctuated by a beautifully-edited montage of the different games: as the players dribble and race across the court, they pass the ball into the air, which lands seamlessly in the hands of another team in a different game, and this rhythm continues in a quick and vibrant way to illustrate the progress of the playoffs. It’s a terrific sequence. 

It doesn’t end there: we cut between Buss and Red delivering their own versions of a similar rousing speech, reminding their players to not rest on their laurels, because their rivals are bloodthirsty. Both actors are titans of their craft, and it’s incredibly exciting to see the energy build, finally culminating in the teams’ chants of “Beat LA!” and “F*ck Boston!” back and forth directly into the camera until a hard cut to black promises a thrilling finale next 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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