Hulu’s Lakers documentary goes from Jerry Buss to Jeanie


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LOS ANGELES — A 63-win season was falling apart when Pat Riley realized he couldn’t reach the Los Angeles Lakers anymore.

The legendary coach, known for his slicked-back hair and high-end suits, addressed his team in May 1990, hoping to discuss a second-round comeback against the Phoenix Suns. Desperate to connect during a movie session in a hotel ballroom, Riley hit a mirror for emphasis, continuing his monologue even as blood ran down his hand. Shortly after, the Lakers retired and its nine-season run guiding the “Showtime” era was over.

“I lost it in the playoffs,” Riley admitted in “Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers,” an upcoming documentary on Hulu. “I could feel the walls closing in. I could feel it and I fought it. i could feel [the players] walking away from me. I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind that I’ve changed. It was like war. I couldn’t get down on my knees and do my mea culpa. I had to go all the way. Eventually, I happened to call games for Magic Johnson. I think he could have been the only guy in my corner, maybe.

Although Riley is not the brightest star in the Lakers galaxy which includes Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, he is perhaps the most compelling and most sincere of “Legacy”, a film in 10 parts. series that begins on August 15.

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The full documentary follows the Lakers from 1979, when Jerry Buss bought the team, to 2020, the year Buss’ daughter Jeanie became the first female owner to win an NBA championship. ‘Legacy’ features interviews with 75 people, including Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar and O’Neal, plus the Buss children, who are still licking their wounds after a court battle for control of the franchise following the death of Jerry Buss in 2013 .

“Legacy” was crafted by Jeanie Buss to provide a definitive account of Jerry Buss’ groundbreaking tenure and to introduce the great names of “Showtime” to a younger generation of fans. Jeanie Buss’ dedication to her father is evident throughout, and the series achieves its primary goal of celebrating the patriarch’s larger-than-life personality and numerous contributions to the NBA, including exclusive courtside seating and Laker Girls dance team.

Of course, Lakers nostalgia is a crowded field: Already this year, HBO released “Winning Time,” a drama series based on Jeff Pearlman’s book about the “Showtime” era, and Apple TV Plus produced “They Call Me Magic”, a four-part documentary about Johnson. “Legacy” is by far the most ambitious and expansive of these projects, but its first episode covers many of the same plot points as “Winning Time”, while its account of Johnson’s 1991 HIV diagnosis is surpassed by “They Call Me Magic”. ”

“I think it’s important to hear from people who are actually living the stories,” Jeanie Buss said in a phone interview. “We all know what the results have been on the pitch and how many championships [Jerry Buss] won. But what happens behind the scenes makes it a human story. I think people may be surprised at how difficult this job is. You have the highs of winning, but sometimes winning takes a toll. We encouraged interviewees to share their truth – the good and the bad.

“Legacy” unfolds in chronological order, mixing contemporary TV shows, rare archival footage and recent interviews to relive the title’s years and boardroom drama. There are some real gems: Johnson laughs off his ill-fated coaching career; O’Neal traces his respect for Phil Jackson back to their first meeting in the coach’s cabin in Montana; and a teenaged Bryant giving a speech to his high school English class.

“[Bryant] is the best young player I think we’ve ever worked here,” Lakers executive Jerry West said in a gripping 1996 audio. “I don’t often make predictions about greatness, but I think he gonna be awesome.

Director Antoine Fuqua regularly uses narrators to tell more complete and enriching stories. After the Lakers won the title in 1987, Riley explains that he immediately guaranteed a repeat in 1988 because his previous teams hadn’t been focused enough to back each other up. Meanwhile, Abdul-Jabbar and his teammates moan that Riley’s guarantee raised expectations and kept them from relishing their triumph.

When the subject turns to Jeanie Buss’ short-lived marriage to volleyball star Steve Timmons in the early 1990s, she explains how the couple’s move to Europe impacted her career, while her brother, Jim, likes to poke fun at Timmons’ flat hair. The viewer can sense the sibling rivalry throughout Jim’s interviews, and his involvement is a credit to the project given that Jeanie wrested control of the franchise from him and their brother, Johnny, in 2017.

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“Everyone has a family and everyone can relate to families that sometimes have complicated issues that they have to work through,” Jeanie Buss said. “I was doing things as my father had asked me to. Maybe that wasn’t how my siblings thought it should be. But the court clearly interpreted the trust my father left behind, and now it’s behind us. We are slowly coming together as a family.

Despite Jerry Buss’ playboy reputation, Johnson’s notorious partying, and the unmistakable connection between stardom and sex in Los Angeles, “Legacy” barely dabbles in salacious material. And while Michael Jordan’s documentary “The Last Dance” leaned heavily on settling scores, trash talking and personality clashes, “Legacy” is less about sensationalism.

“We wanted to stick closely to the story of Dr. Buss, his family and his team,” Fuqua said. “I’m not a big fan of a lot of extra drama that has nothing to do with the story. That’s not the way to do it. »

This philosophical approach led to a few flat spots on the show, but it also allowed Riley’s obsessive basketball spirit to shine. Riley expresses regret for the force with which he sometimes pushed the Lakers, such as when Byron Scott was lost to a hamstring injury just before the 1989 Finals. The Hall of Fame coach also admits that “Showtime” fame has changed his personality and enlarged his ego, as he blames himself for promoting his 1988 book in the middle of a season.

Riley, now a Miami Heat executive, is a crucial link between the NBA’s present and past, and a much less visible and vocal link than Johnson and O’Neal. His wisdom and tough personality help “Legacy” paint a complete picture of Jerry Buss, a real estate mogul who was willing to take serious financial risk in his bid to unseat the Boston Celtics as the league’s premier franchise. .

Just as Riley was forced to handle the pressure to keep winning in 1990, Jeanie Buss seems absorbed in the challenge of keeping the family business on track. Remarkably, the Lakers made the playoffs in 32 of Jerry Buss’ 34 seasons as owner, then missed the playoffs in the first six seasons after his death.

To right the ship, Jeanie Buss tabbed Johnson, whose close friendship with Jerry Buss was key to the “Showtime” era. Johnson, in turn, signed James, who won the 2020 title, a comprehensive achievement that came four decades after Jerry Buss and Johnson won their first championship.

In an interview shortly after the 1980 final, an ecstatic Jerry Buss described the victory as a “high [of] such intensity” that it took “two or two and a half months before being able to return to normal”. But after 40 years, 11 championships and a protracted family power struggle, that childlike joy gave way to a much more conscious and cautious outlook in his successor.

“After winning in 2020, the sky looked a little bluer every day,” said Jeanie Buss. “It was a lot of fun. But then, like it is in the NBA, reality sets in. Now you have a big target on your back because you are the champions.

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