Sean Patrick Small: 'My jaw hit the floor' over 'Winning Time' Larry Bird episode

Larry Bird (Sean Patrick Small) tries out for Indiana State. Photo courtesy of HBO
1 of 5 | Larry Bird (Sean Patrick Small) tries out for Indiana State. Photo courtesy of HBO

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- Sunday's episode of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty focused on Larry Bird (Sean Patrick Small). Small, 31, appeared in Season 1, but was surprised Season 2 devoted so much of an episode to the Boston Celtics player.

"When I read it, my jaw hit the floor just because I didn't know that we were going to go into Bird's backstory," Small told UPI in a Zoom interview before the SAG-AFTRA strike.


Winning Time producers said Season 2 builds up to the Lakers' 1984 finals against the Celtics. So, earlier episodes had to build up Bird as the ultimate rival to Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah).

The third episode of the season flashes all the way back to 1974, when Bird dropped out of Indiana University. Bird's father disapproved of his son leaving college, but after his father died, Bird became more motivated to prove he could go pro.


"That drives who he is as a person," Small said.

Yet, Bird got a second chance at college ball when Indiana State recruited him. Like his co-stars who portray the legendary Lakers, Small trained with Idan Ravin to capture Bird's playing style.

Small said he practiced Bird's dribbling, passing and shooting techniques "to create the silhouette of those players on the court."

Winning Time is based on the Jeff Pearlman book, Showtime. In doing additional research for the show, co-creator and showrunner Max Borenstein was able to add the Bird perspective.

"In the first season, we were just able to present Larry Byrd as Magic's rival," Borenstein said. "We knew, having done our research about it, how rich his backstory was and what kind of challenges he faced."

Executive producer Rodney Barnes said the goal of the episode, and second season, was to put Bird and Johnson on equal footing, as they were in the NBA.

Barnes said "the math of Larry Bird" was how the player balanced "the trauma that was in his past along with the commitment to becoming great at the game."

Guiding Bird on his journey is Celtics coach and general manager Red Auerbach (Michael Chiklis). Chiklis, 59, also appeared in Season 1, but the expanded Bird storyline of Season 2 also includes more Auerbach scenes.


In 1979, Auerbach recruited Bird to the Celtics as a rookie. Bird would have been in the 1979 draft with Johnson had he not signed with the Celtics outright.

Chiklis said whether the viewer is a Lakers fan or Celtics fan, the story of Bird's perseverance is universally inspiring.

"These people have overcome a lot of personal strife to get to where they are," Chiklis said. "It makes [viewers] look at their own life and go, 'Hey, you know, I know I have my issues and my problems, but it doesn't mean that I can't succeed.'"

A Boston native and Boston University grad, Chiklis doesn't hide his Celtics fandom. He recalled watching the Celtics-Lakers rivalry develop while in high school.

"We didn't know what we were watching until we knew what we were watching," Chiklis said. "We all sort of realized in real time; It dominated conversations a lot at that time and still."

Small grew up in the Bay Area of Northern California. Since the Lakers always were the Golden State Warriors' rival, Small related to the Celtics, too.

"Once I got this role, I just doubled down on that and had the Celtics be the second-favorite team," Small said.


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

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