'Winning Time' stars say Season 2 hits Magic, Kareem highs, lows

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes, L) and Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) are portrayed in "Winning Time." Photo courtesy of HBO
1 of 5 | Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes, L) and Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) are portrayed in "Winning Time." Photo courtesy of HBO

LOS ANGELES, Aug 4 (UPI) -- Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty introduced Solomon Hughes as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Quincy Isaiah as Magic Johnson in the actors' first leading roles on screen.

Isaiah and Hughes told UPI that Season 2, premiering Sunday on HBO, explores the NBA players' accomplishments and setbacks in the early '80s. For Johnson, a knee injury in 1981 sidelined the rookie in his second playing season.


Isaiah said his portrayal of the injury was a little too convincing for some of the cast and crew.

"It's funny because even after I got up, in some takes, I was still limping," Isaiah told UPI in a Zoom interview before the SAG-AFTRA strike. "People were like, 'Are you alright?'"

Abdul-Jabbar had been playing for the Los Angeles Lakers since 1975 and was named MVP before Johnson joined the team in 1980. Hughes said Season 2 shows Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson on the road to harmony, but they're not there yet.


"I think we see the relationship mature for sure," Hughes said. "I think it's inevitable in any relationship. You're always working out the kinks."

Johnson's whirlwind success led to endorsement deals. Season 2 recreates a 7UP billboard with Isaiah posing like Johnson.

"That was a long day, but it was cool just being able to take pictures with the 7UP can," Isaiah said.

Season 1 of Winning Time showed Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) buying the team and the Lakers winning the 1980 championship. However, the 1981 season would not be a repeat.

Winning Time co-creator Max Borenstein said Season 2 explores how that victory gave the Lakers a false sense of security.

"We're telling the story not just of a team that won one championship, but a team that became a dynasty," Borenstein said. "The challenge is how can you carry forward toward a dynasty after having won a championship when it would now be easy to rest on your laurels?"

While Season 1 focused on Buss and Johnson's first year with the Lakers, Season 2 covers 1981 to 1984, culminating in the seven-game finals between the Lakers and Boston Celtics.


"Dealing with the ups and the downs takes more than one season," writer-producer Rodney Barnes said. "They have to go through a process to be able to overcome themselves to be able to overcome this obstacle that is the Celtics."

Both Hughes and Isaiah trained for Season 1 to be able to recreate the historic plays of Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson on the court. Hughes said playing like Abdul-Jabbar became instinctive by Season 2, but recreating the Celtics finals still proved challenging.

Game 5 of those finals included 97-degree temperatures inside the Boston Garden, which did not have air conditioning. Hughes said Winning Time recreates that game, and the Lakers fans rioting after Game 7.

"One of the games in the series, people were passing out," Hughes said. "When the crowd storms the floor, the contrast is of the Celtics celebrating the championship and the Lakers are like fighting for their lives."

Director and executive producer Salli Richardson-Whitfield directed many episodes that recreated historic Lakers games. She directed the season finale with the riot, and also the episodes in which Laker Kevin McHale clotheslines Celtic Kurt Rambis and in which Abdul-Jabbar set the scoring record in 1984.


"There's more basketball," Richardson-Whitfield said of the second season. "There's more energy in the show."

Richardson-Whitfield and cinematographer Todd Banhazi also brought new filmmaking techniques to intensify the basketball footage. Richardson-Whitfield said Banhazi added video footage to reflect televised NBA coverage transitioning to videotape.

Executive producer Kevin Messick revealed another new technique that was purely Banhazi's invention.

"We had a remote control camera car this season," Messick said. "So as the players are running plays up and down, in between their feet and around their ankles is a point of view that you would never get that brings you inside the plays."

Hughes remembered stepping around the mobile camera on the court. He also coordinated with cameramen wearing roller skates.

"Everything had to be in sync so that they could capture the move at the specific time," Hughes said. "It was a big challenge, but it was also obviously very rewarding when you see the final shots."

New episodes of Winning Time air Sundays at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO.

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