Winning Time Episode 5 in-depth look at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

The series shifts focus a little bit in this episode

Photo: HBO

What makes Winning Time’s tapestry of tales enthralling is the way it displays the chaotic jazz of our lives. Every character is at odds towards the world and themselves. Magic, Jerry Buss, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, every man is preventing a non-public struggle. For lots of them, it’s a struggle of the spirit towards the flesh. This is why one episode can open with John C. Reilly’s Buss fingering a lady at a restaurant, whereas this episode, “Piece of a Man,” opens on an Islamic ceremony of a brand new follower, a younger Lew Alcindor, bonding himself with a religious renaissance.

The nice mosaic of life is like that. It’s directly perverse and profane. As people, we oscillate between the 2 always. Essentially, that is what Winning Time is about, albeit with some sensationalizing, reflecting what the Showtime Lakers have been all about.

This results in an ideal segway to speak concerning the present’s theme track. While “My Favorite Mutiny” is a soulful jamboree, a deeper, militant message is ringing forth. Its author and creator, Boots Riley of The Coup, collaborates with Black Thought of The Roots and Talib Kweli to craft the right mid-2000s rap-along treatise. When it got here out, the track was in direct opposition to the ring-tone rap which dominated the airwaves. Three of the sport’s fiercest lyricists joined collectively as brothers in arms towards the company industrial advanced of music.

Set towards the backdrop of Los Angeles, the artistic workforce behind Winning Time reveals us the surplus and absence that rocked town within the late 70s and early 80s. The opening montage displays the state of America on the time, a harsh chasm between the haves and have nots. Riley and his bandmates most likely by no means imagined their track soundtracking scenes of white girls brunching, aerobics, and parasailing. But we additionally see righteous residents protesting within the streets, a homeless man smoking crack, and even a scene of African-Americans having fun with brunch. Shit is every thing, . As Black Thought punctuates the montage with righteous indignation, we’re ready as an viewers for the amalgamation of America’s particular model of absurdity.

Kareem’s shrugging off of Magic’s nascent chirping within the lead-up earlier than the Lakers’ first sport embodies the conflict between ideologies on the daybreak of the 80s. Some noticed the promise of Reaganomics as a framework for spoil and plunder. At the identical time, veterans of the American nightmare have been acquainted with how the chapter would finish. Magic wished to impress the previous head with the artistic meshing of their two video games, whereas Jabbar was simply trying to make sufficient cash to step away from the sport and escape the conveyor belt, an insidious mechanism poignantly laid naked by creator William C. Rhoden in his e-book, Forty Million Dollar Slave. The conveyor belt sees the NBA monolith plucking inner-city Black youngsters from their communities, and planting them on a path towards wealth and distracted from the issues they left behind. Then it isolates and insulates them from the surface world so that they lose empathy towards their fellow man. They started to take an “I” way of living against a “we,” disconnecting them farther from the communal plight of their household, buddies, and neighbors. At the tip of the belt you might be left with a solitary determine, alone in his tens of millions, too scared to talk up or trigger hassle for concern of shedding their consolation. Jabbar was the antithesis of this. He spoke out a lot it made his personal teammates, these unaware of their place on the conveyor belt, uncomfortable.

In this episode, we are given a backstory on how and, more importantly, why Lew Alcindor became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Essentially it boiled down to what should make any of us get mad enough to, as Black Thought says in the intro,

“Move, if you got the nerve

Lash out for your just desserts’”

Back then, as it is now, killer cops were murdering innocent African-Americans. It feels like not much has changed in today’s America, where killers with badges are rarely brought to justice for their murderous crimes. As a youth, Jabbar struggled with his father being a transit police officer as a means to make a living for his son and their family. Cap, as his colleagues affectionately called Kareem, was at odds with his father’s Christian faith and law-and-order mentality. Winning Time shows us, quite obviously at a dinner table scene, Jabbar’s early rejection of a white Jesus and his “turn the other cheek” principles which would come to fuel his outspoken views on war, police brutality, and racial justice throughout his life. It also made him an enigmatic teammate to those he was in the trenches with, especially Magic and new coach Jack McKinney.

Just when you thought the roster was overflowing, the series adds another new player in Spencer Haywood, played by Wood Harris, of The Wire and Empire. As Haywood, Harris becomes the bridge between Jabbar and the rest of the Lakers. Haywood had sued the league and won the right to skip college and go straight into the NBA to provide for his family. He set the stage for Moses Malone, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe Bryant to enter the NBA straight out of high school.

In Haywood, Jabbar saw an ally, a fellow soldier willing to stand up for his beliefs in the face of racist power structures. But as the two share a joint in the back of Jabbar’s property, we learn the toll such a moral war took on Haywood’s spirit. Wood delivers a heartfelt, poignant monologue on realizing he had a second chance at life, that is unfortunately interrupted by manic editing. It would have done Wood’s performance justice, had the camera stayed on him in a single take, to let us see his expressions and ticks coalesce. Nevertheless, Wood does some of the best work of his career and should be remembered as an epoch of Wood’s long and illustrious career.

The battles we fight, external and internal, and their outcomes are what will define us. In Winning Time, we are witnessing the diverse cast of characters in the trenches of these wars, public and private. So far, we have seen them try to fight as solitary soldiers. The private losses, especially, have worn on them before they even play their first game. Towards the end of the episode, as their first home game begins, we see Cap finally extend a hand in solidarity to his rook. History tells us the Lakers take a 9 and 2 record to start the season. And by the time coach McKinney takes his faithful bike ride through his neighborhood, they are finally a team. It can be said whatever wars lie ahead, McKinney’s head injury — the arrival of Larry Bird, Magic’s HIV diagnosis — they will face them together.

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