Each week, we’ll be looking back on the newest episode of HBO’s “Winning Time” and fact-checking or adding more details on some of the key and bigger plot points by using the book “Showtime: MAGIC, KAREEM, RILEY, AND THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS DYNASTY OF THE 1980S” By Jeff Pearlman.
As “Winning Time” chugs along toward the end of the season, the seemingly inevitable showdown between Paul Westhead and Jack McKinney finally takes place in this week’s episode. As Westhead continued serving as the interim head coach for McKinney following his bike wreck, it became clear between the series was headed for one big inevitable clash the two sides.
But, in reality, it’s the latest fictionalization in a series looking for a story where one didn’t quite exist. Very early on in the episode, McKinney re-enters a celebratory Lakers locker room as they’re in the middle of a red-hot winning run. His return is unexpected and forces Westhead into a dilemma effectively being forced to pick between McKinney or Riley.
Westhead eventually chooses Riley, losing a close friendship with McKinney in the process as he is very clearly upset about feeling backstabbed by Westhead. Aside from the fact that this would not be a decision made by Westhead in real life, there was also effectively no interaction between the Westheads and McKinneys to avoid this very type of situation.
As we’ve mentioned before, as Westhead experienced more success and became more entrenched as the Lakers head coach, he and his family stopped their interactions with the McKinneys, as discussed in a May 1980 article in Sports Illustrated.
McKinney always assumed the job would be his when he was fully recovered. But this hasn’t been the case. During the latter stages of the season, he was reduced to occasional scouting assignments; he doesn’t go to Laker practices, doesn’t visit his office, and his contact with Westhead—except for scouting reports—has tapered off to almost none at all. “We’ve never discussed anything,” says Cassie Westhead of this cooling period, “even though we’re all very aware that our futures are going to change because of what’s happened. We don’t see the McKinneys as much as we did, and that’s been a kind of unspoken decision by the four of us. I think because our relationship is deep, we’ve avoided making it awkward for each other. They can’t share our joy over Paul’s success, of course. And how many times can you say you’re sorry for the way things turned out? When you get past the reason for it, you have to accept the fact that for us it’s been a dream come true.”
From a logistics standpoint, McKinney also wasn’t cleared to return to the team when he did in the show. The episode revolves around the 1980 NBA All-Star Game, which takes place on Feb. 2. McKinney wasn’t cleared by physicians to return to the team until mid-March, which was revealed in Pearlman’s book when discussing his…
WARNING: Real-life spoiler alert for likely future events in a show based on things that happened four decades ago
…eventual firing from the Lakers (emphasis mine, excerpt via “Showtime”):
And yet, even though the McKinney family was handed the worst news in the cruelest of ways, Buss was correct in his assessment. Jack McKinney had initially asked to rejoin the Lakers in mid-March, citing a handful of physicians who deemed him ready. Buss didn’t see it that way.
“That was surely one of the hardest things my dad ever had todeal with,” said Jeanie Buss, his daughter. “My dad is a very honorable person. He wants to do the right thing, even when that’s hard to deter-mine. I’m sure he felt he had no other choice.”
“I couldn’t admit it at the time,” McKinney said, “but Dr. Buss wasn’t wrong. I wasn’t ready.”
And now, like that, he was gone.
There will be a time to discuss McKinney’s departure in full — and if you thought Vogel’s was handled poorly then woof — but as it pertains to this week’s episode, there was no publicly documented showdown between McKinney and Westhead and Riley as far as we can tell, either publicly or behind the scenes. The ultimate decision was taken out of their hands and, as McKinney himself noted, the right decision was made.
Interim interim head coach Pat Riley
Speaking of creating the drama surrounding this coaching triangle, Westhead is so stressed out about the situation in this episode that he gives himself a kidney stone, leading to him passing out in the locker room and being forced to miss a game.
You’ll be shocked to hear that — as far as we can tell based on public info — none of that happened.
There is no record of West having kidney stones that forced him out of a game this season and there’s no record of Pat Riley being named the interim head coach for a game in Philadelphia.
As a side note, the Lakers did lose their game in Philadelphia roughly around this time period, it was not quite the blowout it was portrayed as in the episode as the Lakers lost 105-104 in overtime. And it was not one of Magic’s worst games of his rookie season, as Chick Hearn proclaims, as he finished with 21 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three steals of 8-13 shooting.
Dr. J’s infamous “Rock the Baby” dunk also…
- Did not come in this game. It happened in 1983
- Did not over Magic Johnson, but instead Michael Cooper
Again, really odd to randomly change history when we can watch all the details about the play in a quick YouTube search.
Hilariously inconvenient scheduling
last week, we discussed how bizarrely they changed the Lakers schedule without rhyme or reason, and for as many complaints as the show has had in the last week about character portrayals from the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West and Magic Johnsonironically it’s the factual things they’re playing most loose and fast with.
The show ends with a win over Boston on Christmas Day and this episode opens with Chick talking about the team being 22-5 since that game before a cut scene of it being two days before the All-Star Game.
The All-Star Game, as mentioned already, took place Feb. 2 in 1980. And if you start counting fingers and toes, you eventually add up that the show has the Lakers playing 27 games in 37 days. While flying commercially. In reality, the Lakers played 18 games in those 37 days, which is still a game every other day and is wild enough.
Playing 27 times in 37 days? The players in the Winning Time Universe are as tough as the guys who played in the ’70s and ’80s think they are.
Most stories from this article via “Showtime: MAGIC, KAREEM, RILEY, AND THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS DYNASTY OF THE 1980S” by Jeff Pearlman, which is a must-read for fans of “Winning Time,” and Lakers fans in general, and served as the source material for the show. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.