In the latest “episode of “Winning Time,” the Lakers undergo a seismic coaching change that sends shockwaves through the team and the sports world. Coach Paul Westhead, portrayed by Jason Segel, finds himself abruptly out of a job as tensions between him and Magic Johnson, played by Quincy Isaiah, reach a breaking point. Westhead’s unwavering commitment to his fast-break system, often referred to as “the system,” leaves the young point guard feeling frustrated and stifled. In a bold move, Magic Johnson issues an ultimatum to the Lakers’ management, leading the organization to side with their star player and bid farewell to Westhead.
This pivotal moment in the series underscores the Lakers’ decision to prioritize a player’s desires over a coach’s strategies. While such decisions may seem commonplace in today’s NBA, in 1981, they were met with bewilderment. For Jason Segel, who brings Paul Westhead’s bitter downfall to life, it’s a fascinating character study. Segel humorously reflects on how he, personally, would be ill-equipped to handle coaching NBA superstars like LeBron James, emphasizing the complexity of the situation faced by his character.
Following Westhead’s departure, the Lakers hold a frenetic press conference to introduce assistant coach Pat Riley, portrayed by Adrien Brody, as the new “co-coach.” Riley’s sudden promotion surprises him, but it’s a testament to his abilities, having worked closely with Magic Johnson to enhance his leadership skills on the court. The episode culminates in a comical montage as Riley transforms into a charismatic figure, passionately motivating his players, embracing stylish Armani suits, and adopting an iconic slicked-back hairstyle, all set to the upbeat sounds of Frankie Valli’s “Grease.”
In contrast, Westhead is depicted as a character akin to Wile E. Coyote, blissfully unaware of the impending doom. Viewers watch with a sense of inevitability as he futilely attempts to challenge Magic Johnson’s influence. It’s a moment of divine nonchalance before the realization sets in. The outcome is clear, and the tension is palpable, making for riveting television.
As “Winning Time” continues to explore the dynamics of the Lakers’ golden era, the coaching shifts and power struggles offer viewers a captivating glimpse into the world of professional basketball during a time of unprecedented change.