To get the right look for “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,” airing every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, practice really did make perfect.
For the series, which traces the professional and personal lives of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson-led team that won five NBA championships during the 1980s, costume designer Emma Potter started breaking down the squad’s look by studying its practice uniforms.
“What was exciting was seeing how the purples didn’t match, or in one session someone would be wearing shorts from two seasons back, and another had his number written on with a Sharpie,” says Potter, who aimed to capture that energy and fun in her designs. “In a way, it felt like things were more hands-on and thrown together.”
Unlike today, when uniform lists for the season are available online in a regimented system, the ’80s were more free-form. The material Potter needed to re-create the uniforms was also different. The double-knit material used 40 years ago didn’t have the same breathability and weighed more compared with the lightweight flyknit fabrics used now. “The mesh from the jersey was also different,” says Potter, who was able to track down the earlier fabric. “Those anomalies were fun.” The most challenging character to dress was Magic Johnson (played by Quincy Isaiah), who grew up in Lansing, Mich., and led the Michigan State Spartans to an NCAA championship as a much-heralded sophomore before making the leap to the NBA. “His journey was about him leaving Lansing and traveling to Los Angeles, getting more money and being able to shop in places that he never would have had access to.” His style? “It felt like he was still a bit in the ’70s and not quite into the 1980s.”
Over the 10-part series, audiences will also see the evolution of the uniforms of the Laker Girls, the cheerleading squad established by Lakers owner Jerry Buss, played by John C. Reilly. “There’s the version before Jerry Buss puts his foot down, bringing something more exciting and juicy with the big V and dazzling rhinestones,” Potter says. “Then we get the big reveal that is seen in trailers — the version that’s a little more familiar, with the long sleeves and ‘Lakers’ across the chest with the yellow and purple.”