HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty shifts the focus to Sean Patrick Small’s Larry Bird in Season 2 Episode 3, the best episode of the season yet.
Now, before all my fellow Los Angeles Lakers fans rip me a new one, let me make one thing clear: I have a strong dislike for the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird. That has been true since I was a little kid and is something that is not likely to ever change. However, I must give credit to the creative team behind Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty where it is due. They at the very least made me understand where their show’s version of Larry Bird (Sean Patrick Small) is coming from in Season 2 Episode 3, even if I still do not like him.
Season 2 Episode 3 of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty takes an interesting turn and puts the spotlight on Boston Celtics superstar Larry Bird. Audiences learn more about Bird than ever before as the narrative cuts back and forth to various stages of his life. In between all of that, the dysfunction within the Los Angeles Lakers organization continues, and the tensions surrounding Assistant Coach Pat Riley (Adrien Brody), Head Coach Paul Westhead (Jason Segel), and Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) appear to be closer than ever to reaching a breaking point.
As surprised as I was by the narrative’s change of focus to Larry Bird, especially in a series called Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, it seems necessary. We have not gotten a lot of backstory for the Celtics star outside of what the main players of our show, such as Magic Johnson, perceive Larry to be. Season 2 Episode 3 gives us a look into who the man that Celtics fans affectionately nicknamed “Larry Legend” is, and not all of Magic’s impressions of him are right. We are taken all the way back to French Lick, Indiana in 1974, where Bird has just returned home and he informs his overbearing, alcoholic war veteran father Joe that he has dropped out of Indiana University. Audiences get a good look at what helped shape Larry Bird into the antagonistic figure that both Magic Johnson and NBA fans outside of Boston know him as.
This week does a wonderful job humanizing Larry, whether that be through the writing and learning more about him, or through Sean Patrick Small’s performance. I must admit that, much like with Adrien Brody as Pat Riley, I was not sure if Small had the gusto to portray such an enigmatic, antagonistic figure, mostly because I had not seen him in anything else. Winning Time Season 2 Episode 3 proves that he was the perfect choice for the role. His performance is so good here that part of me wanted to root for him just this once. All of the anger and frustration on Small’s face as Bird is channeled into his demeaner and play on the basketball court. This is a person that clearly loves to be doubted and challenged. To some, that might make him endearing; to others, like me, the whole underdog shtick gets annoying. Especially when Bird receives more praise than Magic from certain corners because he happens to be white.
Sean Patrick Small is my player of the game for this week, simply because he brought out a charm and a human side to Larry Bird that frankly I have not experienced. Focusing on Bird in Season 2 Episode 3 is also a major plus, it adds context to the character and should allow audiences to get more invested in the Magic vs Bird rivalry. Now that we have seen both sides, every confrontation between the two from here on out should be a lot more fascinating to watch. One final note of the Bird front before I briefly touch on the other developments of the week, I really loved the balance and transitions between plots this week. The switches to Larry Bird’s backstory were not jarring and were actually pretty cool from a visual standpoint.
Okay, so other than Bird, we had the continuation of Succession: Basketball Edition, which is beginning to become more interesting than anything involving Dr. Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly), with Hadley Robinson standing out as Jeanie Buss. The Dr. Buss and Honey (Ari Graynor) stuff still does not grip me at all. If I were not watching for review purposes, I would skip over it. This is not a problem with their actors or their chemistry; I just do not care, and the writing is not doing enough to change that.
The problems between Pat Riley and Paul Westhead appear to be not only growing in Winning Time Season 2 Episode 3, but getting closer to coming to a head. I may know how this situation ends, but I am still invested, and odds are you will be as well. Then there is Magic Johnson and the issues surrounding him, which by the end of this episode seem to be cooling, but you cannot help but feel like the creative team is building towards something with one of our main protagonists.
While the Dr. Buss and Honey plot may not be a source of negativity for me, that does not hold true for the ongoing sidelining of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes). I really do not understand what they are doing with him three episodes in, he has been far too much of a supporting player for a guy that is one half of one of the greatest duos in basketball history with Magic Johnson. They have given Norm Nixon (DeVaughn Nixon) more to do in Season 2 of Winning Time and, with all due respect to “Stormin’ Norman,” he is not Kareem. I am beginning to wonder if the creative team may be worried about any potential blow back from Abdul-Jabbar, who was one of the most vocal critics of how the series depicted him and his teammates in its first season. Hopefully, Kareem recieves a more prominent role that fits the NBA legend moving forward.
Season 2 Episode 3 is the high point of the sophomore outing of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty so far. The narrative’s focus on Larry Bird and Sean Patrick Small’s performance this week should only benefit the series moving forward. I also really appreciated the balance between giving audiences Bird’s backstory and still updating the storylines that have been developing throughout the season.
Season 2 Episode 3 of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty is now available to watch on Max.