Winning Time Season 2, Episode 2 Recap vs. True Story Compared

HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty season 2 talks about the dirty politics and off-the-court happenings behind the 1980-81 Los Angeles Lakers. 

Even after the exciting comeback of Magic Johnson, new conflicts plague the locker room and make things pretty nasty among the players and coaches. Winning Time season 2, episode 2, “The Magic Is Back,” portrays how the Lakers adjust to Magic’s return and how this causes several structural and interpersonal issues resulting in their early exit from the 1981 NBA Playoffs.

Season 1 of Winning Time dramatized many events in the name of creative liberty, such as the intensity of the feud between Magic and Lakers’ point guard Norm Nixon. 

This trend continues in season 2, where many conjectural events are shown as truths.

This method, though captivating, obscures some of the most crucial moments with slight errors and distorted portrayals of its characters. 

The second installment of the seven-part Winning Time season 2 concludes the 1981 Lakers season and prepares the ground for the unavoidable fall of Coach Paul Westhead.

1. Norm Nixon for David Thompson Deal was Actually on the Table

It is true that the Lakers had an eye on Denver Nuggets forward David Thompson in the 1980-81 season and were contemplating exchanging him for Nixon.

Although the Lakers’ and Nuggets’ front offices never had formal discussions, people like Jerry West wanted to sign him to compensate for Magic’s injury. 

Winning Time realistically portrays how Coach Westhead could have stubbornly resisted the trade because of his fondness for Nixon and his desire to safeguard his systematic offense. 

2. Magic’s Fame Started Causing Locker Room Brawls in the 1980-81 Season

Winning Time Season 2, Episode 2 Recap vs. True Story Compared
Quincy Isaiah in Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (2022) | Source: IMDb

Magic’s penchant for the limelight bothered some of his teammates, who felt it disturbed their cohesion and synergy. 

Magic had a phenomenal debut season, earning an All-Star spot and an NBA championship, which catapulted him to the forefront of the basketball scene. His meteoric rise to fame made many of his teammates envious and polluted the dressing room’s atmosphere.

Given Magic’s hefty paycheck at the tender age of 21, it was understandable that many of his senior teammates were vexed by his flamboyance. This locker room tension ultimately shattered the team after their 1981 first-round playoff defeat to the Houston Rockets.

3. There’s No Proof of Norm Nixon Criticising Magic Johnson to the Press

Episode 2 of Winning Time season 2 vividly portrays how the shrewd Los Angeles sports journalists in the early 80s spread gossip of discontent and envy within the already shaky Lakers locker room. 

However, there is no evidence of real-life Norm Nixon ever telling the Los Angeles Times that “Nobody will remember Magic Johnson in fifteen years.”

LA Times article “Norm Nixon: Life At No. 2,” that is shown as published on March 3, 1981, in Winning Time, is a creative invention and a narrative device of the HBO series. The article reveals the team’s tensions off the court. However, it unfairly portrays Norm as the primary source of the Lakers’ internal strife.

4. Jack McKinney Actually Won Coach Of The Year With His New Team In 1981

Winning Time Season 2, Episode 2 Recap vs. True Story Compared
Tracy Letts and Newton Mayenge in Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (2022) | Source: IMDb

Another newspaper headline in episode 2 reports the news of former Lakers’ coach Jack McKinney receiving the NBA Coach of the Year award.

After being let go by the Lakers, McKinney joined the Indiana Pacers as the head coach and earned the award for an incredible 1980-81 NBA season. He guided the Pacers to their first NBA-winning season in their franchise history, making him the undisputed forerunner for the NBA Coach of the Year Award.

By including this detail in Winning Time, the makers suggest that Paul Westhead might’ve been trying to emulate the coaching style he had acquired from McKinney. 

Furthermore, it provides a reason for Westhead’s insistence on his systematic offense since his mentor had been awarded Coach of the Year for following those very principles. This implies that Westhead might be more compatible with coaching somewhere else.

5. Magic Johnson Actually Shot An Air Ball To End The 1981 Lakers’ Playoff Run

Winning Time Season 2, Episode 2 Recap vs. True Story Compared
Quincy Isaiah in Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (2022) | Source: IMDb

Winning Time season 2 portrays another realistic scene in the final game of the Lakers’ 1980-81 season, where Magic missed the crucial shot with an airball. 

The show skillfully connects this scene with the growing conflict between Magic and Westhead, the head coach, and the contrasting advice of Pat Riley, the assistant coach, who urged Magic to take charge. 

The episode explores the reasons and disputes that led to the actual airball and shows how it indicated the need for some changes in the Lakers team before the following season.

6. 1980-81 Season Kickstarted Paul Westhead & Magic Johnson’s Conflict

Winning Time season 2 perfectly captures the clash between Westhead and Magic, which stemmed from their divergent styles, techniques, and approaches to the Lakers’ offense. While Magic was known for his dazzling moves and clutch performances, Westhead preferred a systematic and efficient offense carefully designed in advance. 

In Winning Time season 2, Westhead stuck to his playbook, despite Pat Riley’s warning that it would not work with a prodigy like Magic. These fundamental differences started appearing regularly, setting the stage for the dramatic breakdown between the NBA coach and his young star.

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7. About Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty is an American sports drama television series created by Max Borenstein and Jim Hecht for HBO, based on the book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s by Jeff Pearlman.

The first season, comprising 10 episodes, chronicles the 1980s Showtime era of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team (beginning in late 1979), featuring notable NBA stars Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

It features an ensemble cast led by John C. Reilly, Jason Clarke, Jason Segel, Gaby Hoffmann, Rob Morgan, and Adrien Brody. The series premiered on March 6, 2022, with the pilot episode directed by Adam McKay. In April 2022, the series was renewed for a second season, which premiered on August 6, 2023.


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