In entertainment, as in sports, it’s all about timing.
Which makes “Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers” a victim of the TV industry’s current interest in its subject matter. (Perhaps that can be blamed on the ’80s Lakers being the most recognizable, and most accessible, team to build a series around in the wake of the smash success of the 2020 Michael Jordan docuseries “The Last Dance.”) Jeanie Buss, the CEO of the NBA’s Lakers, has executive-produced Hulu’s documentary tribute to the team that was already, this year, at the center of Apple TV+’s doc “They Call Me Magic,” about star Magic Johnson, and HBO’s scripted “Winning Time,” about her late father Jerry Buss’ stewardship of the team.
This luxuriously slow-paced 10-part series begins in the “Showtime” era — during which Buss, who purchased the Lakers, along with their then-home court the Forum, in 1979 — leveraged his team’s location and his flair for drama to forge a more purely entertaining kind of sports. It’s a story that has certain noteworthy elements and that certainly has memorable personalities; Johnson is a welcome on-camera presence here. But director Antoine Fuqua, gifted though he is, simply cannot get around the fact that elements of this story are ones we have by now seen before, either in a more tightly focused way, as in the Johnson documentary, or with (for better or worse) more verve, as on “Winning Time.”
And even if other takes on this story didn’t exist, one wonders just how novel the Showtime story really is. The fact of multiple Lakers executives among the producers means there’s inevitably going to be a bit of puffery here, but the fact of the Showtime era bringing entertainment value to sports can sometimes seem fairly overstated. (To be only slightly reductive, how novel, really, was Buss’ idea that sports should be fun?) And this documentary series exhaustively hits every narrative beat to have happened to the Buss family without pushing for the deeper insight: The fact of Jeanie having been passed over in favor of her brother to lead the family’s WNBA venture is mentioned as a challenge, but moved past with a bit more decorum than one might expect from a documentary this comprehensive.
None of which is to say that “Legacy” won’t have something in it for the devotee. But viewers should expect something that exists in the place between studious neutrality and an outright promotional film. The documentary grows in interest near the series’ midpoint, as Buss’ team, having lost its Showtime gloss after its dominance fell away, got scrappier; Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant enter the frame as nascent superstars worth watching. But it takes enough time to get there that viewers might just settle for what they’ve already seen — or wait until the season launches this fall, to see hoops action untouched by the softening glow of nostalgia.
“Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers” will premiere Monday, August 15 with two episodes on Hulu, with new episodes streaming weekly.