HBO’s “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” concluded its breakout first season on May 8 with the Los Angeles Lakers beating the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980 NBA Finals, the team’s first of five titles in eight years. But much like the real Showtime Lakers of the 1980s, there is no rest for the weary. The “Winning Time” cast is already training for Season 2, as star DeVaughn Nixon, who plays his father Norm Nixon, tells Gold Derby during a break in practice.
“You’ve got the authentic interview,” the son says with a laugh while taking a breather inside the show’s training facility.
Nixon has been an actor since he was a child – his first screen credit was in the acclaimed Charles Burnett film “To Sleep With Anger” and he later appeared in blockbuster hits like “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” and “The Bodyguard.” But getting the opportunity to play his father, an NBA great who won two championships as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers before being traded to the then-San Diego Clippers prior to the ‘83-’84 season, was like nothing he had experienced before.
“I learned how great of shape he was in,” Nixon says of what he took away from playing his dad. “But I also just realized that he was a pretty great facilitator, he was an integral part of that team.”
He later adds, “To be honest, if my dad wasn’t my dad, I might not have heard of him [in comparison to Lakers greats like Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar]. So I tried to really make him stick out. I really wanted audiences and people all over the world to say his name, Norm Nixon, and I know it’s brought in a lot of attention to him.”
On “Winning Time,” Norm and Magic (played by Quincy Isaiah) have a contentious relationship at the start of the season. But by Game 6 of the NBA Finals, they’re true teammates – with Norm even telling an exhausted Magic that he had the superstar’s back at a crucial point in the game.
“A lot of people called me and said that was special,” Nixon, an Emmy contender in the Best Drama Supporting Actor category, said of the scene. “And our director, [Salli Richardson-Whitfield], she wanted us to do it over and over, we did a whole bunch of different ways. I actually really love what she did – it was a beautiful moment [that showed] the realness of their relationship. They just wanted to win. I think that moment really magnified that in their bond.”
But as history shows, their relationship does have its fair share of bumps ahead. “Now there’s a little bit drama of coming to the second season for sure,” Nixon says, pointing out that Magic got hurt in the ‘80-’81 season and missed 100 days. “He comes back, and it’s a little bit more friction there [with Norm]. So we always are gonna keep the drama going.”
“Winning Time” grew its audience throughout its first season and closed out with its highest ratings yet. That has fans primed for Season 2. Nixon says production will start later this summer, but for now, he’s focused on the basketball training. Recreating some of the Lakers’ iconic wins, like Game 6 of the ‘80 finals, can take up to 20 hours on set. “It’s just a lot. So we have to get in shape before anybody even gets on the set,” he says. “That’s why we’re just sweating. Sweating our faces off right now. I’m putting in the work.”
All episodes of “Winning Time” are now available on HBO Max.
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