A new season of HBO’s “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” has premiered, reigniting the curiosity of fans and prompting discussions about the accuracy of its portrayals. The drama, featuring John C. Reilly as owner Jerry Buss and newcomer Quincy Isaiah as Earvin “Magic” Johnson, has garnered both viewership and controversy due to its re-creation of memorable events and characters from the Los Angeles Lakers’ “Showtime” era.
The show’s creators have been clear about the fictionalized elements of the series, stating that it is partly dramatized for storytelling purposes. They even include an opening disclaimer before each episode to remind viewers that events and characters have been modified. While the series draws inspiration from author Jeff Pearlman’s book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s,” it is not intended to be a documentary but rather a form of dramatic non-fiction.
The first episode opens with the Lakers’ victory over their bitter rival, the Boston Celtics, in Game 1 of the 1984 NBA finals. The jubilant Lakers’ bus is later surrounded by angry Celtic fans who throw beverages, pound the windows, and curse—an incident that did happen in real life. However, the taunting crowd was not furious over the Celtics’ loss but rather was celebrating their Game 7 win and NBA championship. Such alterations were made for the sake of storytelling.
The series also delves into the Lakers’ tumultuous 1980-’81 season, following their 1980 championship victory portrayed in Season 1. One of the main focal points is the growing tension between finals MVP Magic Johnson and veteran team captain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. While the scenes depicting these moments are fictionalized, the underlying player tension was very real, as confirmed by historical accounts from Johnson and former Lakers head coach Paul Westhead.
The show accurately reflects some significant events, such as Johnson’s injury in the 1981-82 season, which caused him to miss months of play and is described as his “worst nightmare” in his memoir. Additionally, the birth of Abdul-Jabbar’s child, Amir, with partner Cheryl Postono, and Johnson’s first child, Andre, with Melissa Mitchell, are accurately depicted in the series.
As the story progresses into the 1981-82 season, viewers will witness the transformation of Lakers assistant coach Pat Riley into the sharply attired head coach we recognize today. Riley’s recognition of Magic Johnson’s marketing potential and his influence on the player’s endorsement deals are also slated to be explored in upcoming episodes.
Overall, while “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” takes creative liberties to craft an engaging narrative, it remains rooted in real-life events from the iconic “Showtime” era. As fans continue to enjoy the drama and debate its accuracy, it is essential to remember that the series offers a compelling glimpse into the legendary Los Angeles Lakers and their path to becoming one of the most dominant dynasties in NBA history.