WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Winning Time season 2.
- Winning Time season 2 explores the behind-the-scenes struggles and power dynamics that could have derailed the Showtime Lakers dynasty.
- The show accurately depicts Magic Johnson’s critical blunder in Game 2 of the 1984 NBA Finals, where he failed to pass to an open Kareem and forced overtime.
- Magic Johnson set an NBA Finals record with 21 assists in Game 3, solidifying his legacy as one of the greatest playmakers in NBA history.
HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty season 2 ended with the classic showdown between the flashy Showtime Lakers and the formidable Boston Celtics in the 1984 NBA Finals. The seven episodes of Winning Time season 2 covered several crucial behind-the-scenes factors between 1980 and 1984 and saw the Showtime Lakers gain their footing as a legitimate NBA dynasty. The power struggles between Magic Johnson and Paul Westhead (Jason Segel), as well as teammates Norm Nixon (DeVaughn Nixon) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Soloman Hughes), portrayed how the Lakers dynasty could have fallen before it even really started due to locker room and front office struggles.
Winning Time season 2, episode 6 set up the legendary battle in the 1984 NBA Finals between Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) and Larry Bird (Sean Patrick Small) based on the true East Coast–West Coast rivalry of the Lakers and Celtics. Widely considered one of the best Finals series in NBA history, the fight for the 1984 Championship was the professional rematch of the 1979 NCAA Title game between Bird’s Indiana State and Magic’s Michigan State in which Magic came out on top. The competitive series was also a battleground for off-the-court bragging rights between Celtics’ GM and President Red Auerbach (Michael Chiklis) and Lakers owner Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) and coach Pat Riley (Adrien Brody).
The Lakers Didn’t Run Straight To Their Bus After Game 1 Victory In Boston
One of the biggest inaccuracies in Winning Time season 2 appears at the beginning of both its first and last episodes. In the show, the Lakers sprint off the home court of the Boston Celtics after a surprising road win in Game 1 of the 1984 NBA Finals. This sequence, while entertaining and true to the passionate rivalry between the Lakers and Celtics, is not actually factual considering that many of the Celtics fans left the Boston Garden before the final buzzer sounded. The Lakers did in fact win that game but calmly walked off the court once it was over. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who led the Lakers in points (32) and rebounds (8) that game, even stopped for a postgame interview moments after leaving the court.
Magic Johnson Failed To Pass To An Open Kareem In Game 2 & Forced Overtime
Winning Time’s depiction of the final moments of Game 2 is nearly identical to the actual CBS television broadcast. Magic seemingly froze or lost track of the game clock during the last seconds of the 4th quarter, failing to pass to an open Kareem in the paint and dribbling around for roughly 11 seconds before making a move. With just one second left in regulation, Magic passed to his teammate at the top of the key who took a jump shot that got blocked by Celtics’ forward Kevin McHale long after the final buzzer sounded. The scene was essentially a picture-perfect reenactment of Magic’s blunder that would be hard to believe if it weren’t true.
Magic Johnson Set An NBA Finals Record With 21 Assists In Lakers’ Game 3 Win
After the Celtics tied the series in overtime of Game 2, Magic returned in Game 3 with a vengeance, setting an all-time record in assists in an NBA Finals Game. Magic’s record of 21 assists in Game 3 of the 1984 NBA Finals still stands to this day. In fact, Magic also racked up 20 assists in two other NBA Finals appearances in 1987 against the Celtics and in 1991 against Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. He also reached 19 total assists during two games of the 1987 and 1988 NBA Finals, making him the undisputed leader in total assists in NBA Finals history with 584. Other notable NBA players with 19 assists in an NBA Finals game include Bob Cousy of the Celtics and Walt Frazier of the Knicks. Magic would end up with 14 or more assists in eleven separate NBA Finals games over the course of his career.
Larry Bird Hit Game Clinching Shot Over Magic In Celtics’ Physical Game 4 Win
Game 4 of the 1984 Finals elevated the physical contact and aggression between the Celtics and Lakers highlighted by McHale’s inadvertent clotheslining of Lakers power forward Kurt Rambis. Larry Bird is depicted as the instigator of the roughhousing in Winning Time, which is congruent to his notoriously rowdy on-court tendencies. All the moments of physicality depicted in the Winning Time season 2, episode 7 did actually happen, including Bird’s hip-check on the Lakers’ Michael Cooper into the crowd and Kareem’s face-to-face scuffle with Bird after a dead ball whistle. Bird’s fearlessness was solidified after he hit a turnaround fadeaway jumper in Magic’s face with 16 seconds left, putting Game 4 on ice.
The Boston Garden Reached 97 Degrees Fahrenheit In Celtics’ Dominating Game 5 Win
The notoriously non-air-conditioned Boston Garden of the 1980s actually reached an indoor temperature of 97 Degrees Fahrenheit during the Celtics’ Game 5 home win. The brief shot in Winning Time season 2, episode 7 of a referee passing out from heat exhaustion on the court is also based on real-life referee Hugh Evans, who was replaced by alternate ref John Vanek during halftime of Game 5 after collapsing from dehydration. The Celtics showered and put on new dry uniforms at halftime as Bird had a lights-out performance of 29 points and 21 rebounds. Kareem said of the heat in the Garden to Sports Illustrated, “To appreciate what it was like out there, try taking a sauna with all your clothes on, then do 100 pushups and run up and down the court for 48 minutes.”
Kareem Overcame Severe Migraine To Lead Lakers In Scoring In Game 6 Victory
Kareem had struggled with migraines since the age of fourteen and experienced one so severe before the start of Game 6 of the NBA Finals that he almost didn’t play. Remarkably, Kareem overcame the severe migraine to lead the Lakers in scoring in their Game 6 victory at the Forum, racking up 30 points and 10 rebounds and setting the stage for a Game 7 in Boston. The Lakers big man reportedly experienced six migraine attacks during a nine-day period over the course of the 1984 NBA Finals, telling the Los Angeles Times that they were among the worst he’s ever had. Kareem laid in a dark, quiet room to relieve himself before showing up in the clutch for the Lakers in Game 6.
The Lakers Rallied In The 4th Quarter But Lost Game 7 At The Boston Garden
As history tells us, the Lakers were defeated in the 1984 NBA Finals by the hand of Bird and Auerbach’s Boston Celtics. Although the Lakers made an impressive run late in the 4th quarter that dropped a 14-point deficit to just 3 points, the Celtics weren’t about to let the Championship run away from them on their home court and clinched their fifteenth NBA Title. Bird averaged 27 points and 14 rebounds during the fantastic series and was named NBA Finals MVP. Despite a passionate and impressive run by the Showtime Lakers in Winning Time season 2, they would have to wait another year to win their first NBA Title against the Celtics after losing eight straight Championships to Boston between 1959 and 1984.
Sports Illustrated, Los Angeles Times