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21 August, 2023 | 02:00 AM

Winning Time recap: Will you accept these 25 million red roses from Jerry Buss?

Winning Time recap: Will you accept these 25 million red roses from Jerry Buss?
So Magic Johnson, dressed like a normal person, is on the phone with Jerry Buss, dressed like a fancy person, wearing slinky briefs with an open silk robe and a gold chain around his neck. The Boston Celtics have won the Championship against the Houston Rockets, and they are both “fucking watching this” on their respective televisions. As the Celtics celebrate, Larry Bird and some guy (just kidding, it’s Red Auerbach, Boston’s head coach) smoke cigars right there on the court, their victory smoke edited as if it’s billowing into the bitter Laker guys’ faces. But this episode isn’t, at its core, about the Lakers being mad at the Celtics as this opener would have one believe. No, it’s all about commitment: how it’s established, how it’s broken. And about half of it gives us the sad backstory of Bird himself. That’s right, we get many a flashback to French Lick, Indiana (recall, fans, that Bird was nicknamed “The Hick from French Lick”) beginning in 1974. First, we see him drive his station wagon down some dirt roads, shots shifting to black-and-white to indicate when we’re seeing things from his perspective, which is visually cool. (They love visual tricks in this show, and we start to expect them, don’t we? Be honest. You’d be disappointed if a scene went by without some little cinematic touch dusted on there for some flavor.) We come upon a sprawling, but modest, ranch home. Bird enters his dad’s workshop, where his dad is fixing up some pianos. His dad is already not in a great place emotionally, following his divorce from Bird’s mom and ensuing financial troubles. Bird breaks the news that he has dropped out of college. His dad broadcasts his disappointment, then resigns himself to Bird’s decision, and delivers some negative self-talk standing in front of a gun rack. Even without the Great Spoiler of History informing our understanding of this scene… it’s pretty immediately clear where this is going. No, it isn’t subtle. Yes, it’s extremely sad. "The Second Coming" "The Second Coming" season 2 episode 3 Cut to Magic Johnson Basketball Camp, where Magic is imagining all the kids comparing him to Bird, before he snaps out of it to hear teammate Michael Cooper gushing about his very special contract extension for ten times his previous pay. This gets the wheels turning in Magic’s head Gaston-style. This episode will see him working on Buss to get his already pretty long five year contract extended (which he does accomplish before credits roll, with the longest and largest contract that had been offered at that point: $25 million for 25 years). He’s testing loyalty: H ow much does Buss care? You know who else is wondering how much the Lakers care about him? Paul Westhead. He talks a lot this episode about the “pecking order,” how it’s “not clear.” And so he makes some power moves. Jerry West wants to go off and scout free agents to sign? Westhead will bring in his own scout, his former assistant coach Micheal Tibault, as second assistant. ( assistant. We know he’s not replacing Pat. We’ve seen the slicked back hair, we know Pat’s sticking around.) They want to have secret conversations without him? Well now he and his new best friend can chat it up always, digging in as deeply as they wish on whatever they want, approaching everyone else as a united little front. They like Mitch Kupchak. Everyone else can deal with it. And yeah, Buss does ultimately put up $800 K f or Kupchak, as well as give the Bullets Jim Chones in exchange for him. Chones burns Westhead pretty gloriously on his way out, too: “Got an English teacher coaching a fucking NBA team.” He’s not wrong. Yeah, it doesn’t seem like Westhead’s power plays and attempts at shoring up loyalty are going to work out (hint hint). And then there’s Jeanie Buss, always kind of wondering how committed her dad really is to her happiness. She shows up a bit late to family game night at the mansion ( , of course) to find that her brothers, their girlfriends, their dad, and Honey have already started playing. Jeanie tries to act normal and chill, telling Buss about her idea of recruiting Martina Navratilova to her tennis team, but he brusquely cuts her off with “no business at the table” — basically a rejection of Jeanie herself, as we’ve established that this is the whole foundation of their father/daughter bond. They show her, later, vindictively trading her brother Johnny’s gal for Navratilova (IRL t hey traded Chris Evert and elder Buss was the guy responsible). Johnny snaps, “You could bring him home 100 trophies, you’re never going to be his favorite son.” Ouch. In the end, we get Auerbach and Bird chatting at Bird’s house. Auerbach has to sign him prior to the ’ 79 draft or else he reenters the draft pool. (It’s all a little confusing, even for the nerds among us.) Bird had just finished his final college season, as he had wanted “to finish what he started,” (which he did not do, thanks to Magic—w e see this as a quick little flashback to Magic’s happy face, victorious against him). Auerbach courts him heavily, but Bird is still stung by Auerbach having dismissed him as a “corner man” in the press. When Bird, hinting at a little insecurity, asks Auerbach on his way out if he’d still pick him if he had it to do over again, even with all the complications, Auerbach responds, “Every day. And twice on Sunday. ’ Cause you’re a goddamn Celtic.” It’s big and romantic, isn’t it? We see in this episode how big commitments can make people feel special and validated (i.e. Coop and Honey), but we also see how this can go wrong. Bird maintains that the divorce fallout and subsequent financial ruin prompted his dad’s suicide, and we see how destructive being the one denied strong commitment has hurt other characters in this show (like Jeanie). Norm Nixon, in the near-final scene, is put on the spot to commit to the Lakers and end his feud with Magic at an elaborate brunch hosted by Buss, with only the two rivals and their team owner in attendance. While it seems to bolster Magic’s confidence, and Buss claims that they’re a big happy family once again, Nixon is visibly uncomfortable, and it’s awkward to watch. With this commitment theme thoroughly exhausted, we enter our final scene of this episode. Bird returns home to put another of his clips in the basketball scrapbook his dad kept stashed in one of his workshop pianos: I t’s of his 1981 victory. He slides out another one that he, Bird, had placed in there before this moment, but after his father’s death. It reads, “Magic Show Bests Bird.” It seems we’ll get back to the rivalry next time. Stray observations