"Winning Time," HBO's show about the rise of the Lakers, has advice for fathers

Even though this show is set in the '80s, there are lessons in how to teach leadership to our daughters

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published August 13, 2023 8:00PM (EDT)

Hadley Robinson and John C. Reilly in "Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty" (Warrick Page/HBO)
Hadley Robinson and John C. Reilly in "Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty" (Warrick Page/HBO)

The first episode in the second season of HBO's "Winning Time" sends a message to dads who are thirsty to gift whole empires to their sons, even when they have more qualified daughters, in the unholy name of patriarchy. That message is simple, a woman can run a business just as good as man, often better. 

"Winning Time," based on the Jeff Perlman book "Showtime," documents the rise of Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers and the Showtime Dynasty. The series hosts a collection of colorful storylines including the explosive Jerry West (Jason Clarke) also known as the NBA logo, the lanky standoffish giant Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes), flashy phenom with the million-dollar smile, Earvin Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah), the birth of the slick-backed-do mastermind Pat Riley (Adrien Brody) and the innovative, hilarious always looking for the party Doctor Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly). 

In Season 1, we meet our key characters and learn significant things about their backstories including where they come from, what they dream of, and how the unique synergy between them all always seems to be enough to push them to the next level. Season 2 appears to go deeper into their morality, the hard decisions they have to make and the harder consequences. 

The parallels between Magic Johnson's and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's separate journeys into fatherhood are enough to spark 1,000 conversations on masculinity, the roles that society allows men to play, responsibility and the many rights and wrongs that make up the human experience. While this part of the plot is very entertaining and important, the dynamics of the Buss family left my wheels spinning far after the episode had ended. 

The world isn't perfect now, as many women still deal with unfair treatment in and out of the workplace; however, Jeanie is a trailblazer, not just in her profession, but in the world.

In real life, Jeanie Buss is the owner and President of the Los Angeles Lakers. She has a long reputation of being one of the most respected, efficient and intelligent executives in the league. On "Winning Time," we meet Jeanie (Hadley Robinson) as a young intern for the newly acquired organization, eager to earn her father's respect. Viewers will see her make so many great decisions, while Dr. Buss spends a lot of time looking past her, as he grooms his sons Jimmy Buss (McCabe Slye) and Johnny Buss (Thomas Mann) to be the heirs to the Lakers throne. 

The writers do a great job at planting nuggets that display Jeanie's work ethic and skill set that shine throughout this series. They are also really good at capturing the era, where it was very easy for the most talented women to be passed over by sexist men in power. The world isn't perfect now, as many women still deal with unfair treatment in and out of the workplace; however, Jeanie is a trailblazer, not just in her profession, but in the world, and "Winning Time" celebrates that. 

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In Season 2, Doctor Buss realizes that Jeanie is the only child capable of running the company. He doesn't necessarily write his sons off as duds, but there is an explosive scene in the episode where he calls out his sons for their lack of ambitions and they retaliate by rating his performance as a father. With these lines drawn, we can clearly see that Jeanie will begin to take her place as the leader we know her as today. The arc of Jeanie Buss is important to me as I am actively learning to navigate the changing world my 3-year-old daughter occupies.

"Are you going to have a son? Don't you want a son?" It's a question that has been asked to me by everybody from my friends to my mom. 

"I don't need a son, I love my daughter more than anything and I'm good," I always respond. 

I don't know why they always ask me this question, as if they believe a man's journey through fatherhood is incomplete without having a boy to name after himself. This idea couldn't be farther from the truth.

When my wife and I found out she was pregnant, we both thought that we were having a boy. She always envisioned herself having a son, and we had just bought a house that strangely had a room that was already painted blue. It felt like fate, however that feeling was wrong. And when our sound tech asked us did we want to know what we were having, and my wife and I hate surprises so we told her to lay it on us. 

"A girl!" 

We were extremely happy to be having a little girl, and maybe became more excited in a way. Almost four years have passed since that moment, and we still couldn't be happier. Our daughter is our everything – and we fight hard to make sure she will have as many if not more opportunities than any little boy walking in the world. Being competitive and success-driven has nothing to do with gender. "Winning Tim"e does a great job of showing what women must go through in order to achieve a high level of success, and hopefully this show continues the storyline, so that we can see how sweet it is when Jeanie reaches the top. 


By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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