Adam McKay’s work sprawls across vast turf, from the goofiness of Will Ferrell films to the rage and humor entwined in “Vice” or “The Big Short.”
Now a sub-theme has accidentally surfaced: Take people from Michigan State University seriously. It might save your basketball team and/or your planet.
“Michigan is a major state with great learning institutions,” McKay said with a grin. Key characters in his latest films don’t seem to realize that; consider:
–“Don’t Look Up,” which has Oscar nominations for best picture, McKay’s script and more. MSU people say a meteor is heading toward Earth; there’s a fatal pause, as officials wait for Ivy Leaguers to agree.
— “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,” debuting at 9 p.m. Sunday (March 6) on HBO. We see some people doubt that Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a wide-eyed teenager, can make the jump to Los Angeles from MSU and his Lansing hometown.
He could. Johnson (shown here) became “one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game,” said Quincy Isaiah, who plays him. And he fit into Los Angeles and Hollywood. “Magic has got movie-star charisma,” said Max Borenstein, the “Winning Time” writer.
He was No. 17 on ESPN’s list of the top 100 athletes of the 20th century … and No. 3 among basketball players, trailing only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
Jordan had the focus two years ago, with the “Last Dance” documentary series. Now coming are a four-part documentary on Johnson (April 22, Apple TV+) … a documentary on the Lakers (this year on Hulu) … and the scripted mini-series on HBO.
This one, produced by McKay and written by Borenstein, sometimes has characters talk to the camera. “We were trying to have fun,” Borenstein said. After all, this is “a show about showmanship,” offering the “moment when sport became entertainment.”
Some of that was due to Jerry Buss, the owner, who added Laker Girl cheerleaders and a fun tone. “Where he comes from in Wyoming and where he ended up … can only happen in this country,” said John C. Reilly, who plays him.
And more was caused by Johnson, who, McKay said, brought “this blend of joy and skill …. We know the smile, we know the incredible (on-court) creativity, but he was (also) a winner.”
The Lakers had been a strong team, but had won only one NBA championship in a quarter-century. They promptly won with Johnson … just as Everett High and MSU had done.
In 12 years, he took the Lakers to the finals nine times, winning five championships. He was the most valuable player for the regular season three times, the finals three times, the all-star game twice.
He did it with flair and fun, turning a stop-and-shoot game into one of slick teamwork. And that, McKay said, “became the dominant style of the NBA.” This Michigan guy seemed to belong there after all.