Given that the show A) was about one of the most famous sports dynasties in the history of basketball and B) that its first season –– on HBO, no less, a channel not given to the whims of advertisers and more likely to show faith in a series –– had been generally well received, it was not outrageous to believe that viewers would learn of a Season 3 for ‘Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty’ as the Season 2 finale was about to air.
Instead, what we got was news that it was cancelled.
To rub salt into the wounds, Season 2 ends as the Lakers suffer a historic defeat at the hands of huge rivals the Boston Celtics, leaving the show on a seriously down note.
What was the story of ‘Winning Time’ Season 2?
Season 1 kicked off with hard-living businessman Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) taking a financial gamble on the Lakers and clashing with coaches over drafting certain players. It covered the 1979-1980 NBA season and ended in triumph with the Lakers winning against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Though it was thought that the show might use the one-season/one NBA season model, Season 2 was different, partly tackling 1984, but also winding back the clock to cover 1980/82/83 across roughly half the episodes. It ends, as mentioned, with the 1984 defeat by the Celtics.
Sadly, it appears the show’s future was derailed by a combo of cost-cutting at the network and strike delays, since it was an expensive show to produce and hadn’t quite broken out the same way as, say, ‘Game of Thrones’.
What would have happened in Season 3?
In an interview with The Wrap conducted before the series’ fate had been determined, executive producer Kevin Messick outlined his plans for a third season –– and beyond.
Here’s what he said:
“In real life, the Lakers come back and beat the Celtics the next year. So that would absolutely be at the heart of any Season. In terms of the longevity of the show, there’s a lot more Laker stories to tell, a lot more characters, larger than life, as big and bigger than Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that have yet to enter onto the stage.”
And he also outlined plans to keep mining sportswriter Jeff Pearlman’s book ‘Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s’ for more material, along a host of other sources.
Here’s Messick on that:
“If the show is successful, we bought the rights to Jeff’s books that keep chronicling the adventures. We’ll keep creating great seasons, hopefully that allow us to come back and fight another day, but we’re gonna take it one season at a time.”
Pearlman himself was eager for the show to return, writing on twitter last month about his hopes…
As it is, viewers had to make do with a series of pictures with title cards showing what happened to the various players, coaching staff and other team members would get up to in the future, including the Lakers winning their next two Finals matchups with Boston, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holding the NBA career scoring record for nearly 40 years, temperamental Jerry West coming into his own as Lakers’ GM and eventually trading for the draft rights to Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson being diagnosed with HIV, Magic and old flame Cookie still being married today after 32 years, and, the Jeanie Buss-run (Jerry’s daughter) Lakers winning another title in 2020.
It’s telling that the montage version was one of two delivered to channel executives, suggesting that the writing may have been on the wall, at least internally. A disappointing ending, then –– a little like the real-life events portrayed in the season, now series, finale.
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Please click on the video player below to watch our interview with Magic Johnson about his Apple TV+ series ‘They Call Me Magic.’