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Winning Time’s Authenticity Came With Hard Work

The show “Winning Time” is a great sports show about the Los Angeles Lakers. My regular readers know this through my coverage. Well, deep into Season 2, I dug a bit deeper to see why those basketball action scenes look so good. I caught up with basketball producer, Idan Ravin, who has trained NBA and WNBA players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant to name a few. 

Soloman Hughes played Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and he had the arduous task of having to re-create the sky hook. 

“You’re not taking the shot for yourself. You’re taking it in the context of an iconic character, and it has to look the part. Soloman was a very advanced player. He played college basketball at a high level. Very skilled,” Ravin remarked. “It almost became counterintuitive to learn how to do the sky hook. The modern game requires you to play fast, strong, aggressive, and bullish. What required you to play Kareem is you had to slow down the pace and become very methodical but at the same time become instantaneously powerful. It’s unbelievably hard to go from slow to power. It took a while to get it. He’s so hard-working and diligent, and it came together…For the degree of difficulty, it’s one of the highest for sure.” 

Getting actors and former athletes to look and play like today’s NBA players is a daunting task. The camp and practices were very professional. I remember some of the harder basketball camp moments of my youth. 

“I specialize in sports athletic performance…When I came on to the show part of my responsibility was to turn them into the silhouettes of their characters. A lot of these guys are former football players, and they didn’t have a background at all in basketball,” Radin revealed. “Part of the first step was to turn them into basketball athletes. They had to be faster and leaner and look more like the period. Then they had to look more technically proficient, which means, shooting better, dribbling better, scoring better, better decision-making, and better defensive situations. Often on the show, there will be a requirement by the director to show some improvisation. You have to be able to have a basic skill set to improvise. The last step was to turn into the silhouettes of their characters which required a lot of precision.” 

One thing he talked about was being able to tell if that person could be an NBA player.  

“Subconsciously I can tell if you are an NBA player or not. I need to see it in your eyes. I need to see if you know how to suffer. How to do 20s. I need to see it in your eyes if you can throw up in a waste basket. That’s the struggle that NBA players go through. I use the example if you’re in a Navy Seal movie, I need to see you can roll in the sand. If you can’t, I know right away you’re not a Navy Seal and not right for the role.” 

Sean Patrick Small, who plays Larry Bird, the main villain in the series, to be fair, deserves an award for how much he reminds us all about the former Celtics great. 

“Larry Bird was 18 months of work. When people see that, they say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m watching Larry Bird’. Sean killed it,” Radin stated. “1000s of hours and every little detail went into making that jumper look precise.” 

I love the cameos in this series. Dr. J was one of my favorite players growing up. I watched him in the ABA. The 76ers version was still amazing but a bit of a different player, and finding a person to portray that was very hard.  

“I’m responsible for a lot of the casting on the show, and I hunted high and low to try and find a Dr. J,” Radin revealed. “It took a very long time. There are lots of guys who jump very high. I know many of them, but it’s very, very rare to find someone who floats the way he does, and takes notes and direction, and who can emulate the moves and the demeanor.” 

David Thompson was a phenom, so getting someone to play like him was challenging.

“I looked high and low until I was like ‘That’s our David Thompson’. We brought him in and worked a lot on what those dunks would look like. How you have to jump, hang, and expressions in the air, and he nailed it.” 

Passing like Magic Johnson is an almost impossible task. Ravin had to take that on as well.

“We spent so many hours working on that. There has to be accuracy in the pass. You have to know how to make the pass. First, we worked on learning how to pass. Then the accuracy. Then how do we texture the pass with Magic’s idiosyncrasies,” said Ravin. 

This show has authentic play. As a fan of sports movies and shows, that’s what I look for. They continue to nail it and continue to entertain me and millions more.  

Ravin loved this job, but the job was way more detailed than what was originally asked of him. He embraced the challenge and nailed it.

The season finale of “Winning Time” will air on September 17th on HBO and MAX. 

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