If you watched the latest episode of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty season 1, then like us, you have more questions about the accuracy of the events shown.
For example, was Jerry West really not excited about winning a championship ring? You’d think a guy who lost seven times in the NBA Finals before winning his first championship would be happy when he was able to claim a victory. What about Magic Johnson and Cook? The two are married now, but what exactly was their relationship status in 1979? And did West really resign as the Lakers’ head coach?
You can catch up with our Fact vs. Fiction for Winning Time episode 1 right here, but here’s what we’ve determined about episode 2.
Was Jerry West not happy about winning an NBA championship?
In the latest episode of Winning Time, Jerry West (Jason Clarke) is shown winning his lone NBA championship in 1972. And while his teammates, fans and all of Los Angeles were celebrating the win, he appeared not to be satisfied, even disappointed. We’d like to say West was ecstatic about winning a title for the Lakers in real life, but the truth is, he wasn’t. Not initially anyway.
As West himself described in an interview with Graham Bensinger (see below), he “didn’t feel any elation until three days later.” The NBA great spent his entire career battling it out with the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks to win a title, and yet he didn’t immediately feel excited when he won one. West would go on to say in an ESPN Interview that the championship didn’t, “replace the pain of some of the other loses.”
Now as far as West processing the championship title at a bar with a mystery woman during the memorial of a man named Bob, that may be a bit of a Hollywood exaggeration. According to former Los Angeles Herald Examiner reporter Bud Furillo, West was out watching a fight during the Lakers’ celebration party.
Did Jerry Buss come from money? How did Jerry Buss become a millionaire?
Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) has been rather consistent in Winning Time about his “rag to riches” story. Is that narrative a factual one? Yes, it is.
In episode 2, Buss even mentions a story about his stepfather waking him up early in the morning to dig ditches in the freezing cold of Wyoming. This turns out to be a true story. As documented by Bleacher Report, Buss woke up every morning at 4:30 am to help his stepfather with his plumbing business. He would dig ditches in the frozen ground for three hours before school. Buss would then go on to work for a hotel and a local railroad company, before getting his undergrad degree from the University of Wyoming and a master’s and doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Southern California.
Buss then worked for the Bureau of Mines, USC and an aerospace company. But it was his first investment of $6,000 into an apartment building that really launched him into millionaire status. That one investment got him hungry for real estate, turning to the industry for a full-time career. A wise move for Buss considering the fortune he would earn buying and selling property.
By the way, the portrayal of Jessie Buss by the great Sally Fields was phenomenal. Her scene from her added levity to the episode. Unfortunately, Winning Time‘s take on the matriarch may not be completely accurate. Fields herself told Looper“We had to invent a lot of Jessie because there’s not a lot of real information on her.”
Were Magic Johnson and Cookie together before he got drafted to the Lakers?
Although the world knows Magic Johnson and Earletha Kelly Johnson (Cookie or Cook) are happily married in present-day real life, their relationship status in 1979 on the show and how they met isn’t entirely clear. So what was the deal?
bustle reports Magic met Cookie in 1977 at a club while the two were freshmen at Michigan State University. It was a day before they left for Christmas break, so the two didn’t have their official first date until 1978, after the holidays. Coincidentally, their first date was on Magic’s birthday.
As stated in an interview Cookie did with Oprah Winfrey, from that first date, the couple would be involved in an on-again-off-again long-distance relationship for 14 years before they would eventually get married.
So were Magic and Cookie together before he got drafted to the Lakers? And it is. But again, the couple were on and off for over a decade. Also, please don’t let their timeline give you the impression that these two aren’t wildly in love. Magic himself would go on to tell Winfrey in that same interview that Cookie is his “best friend” and “soulmate.”
Did Jerry West quit coaching the Lakers in 1979?
Jerry West really did quit coaching the Lakers squad before the Showtime roster settled into place. However, the decision may not have been as sudden as Winning Time portrayed.
According to 1979 New York Times article, there was already a rumor going around that West was going to step down as head coach of the organization shortly after Jerry Buss purchased the team. Once West did decide to resign, Buss would simply cite that West was “tired of coaching.” However, just because he put coaching in his rearview mirror, doesn’t mean West was done with the Lakers as viewers will soon find out.
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty airs on HBO and HBO Max platforms on Sundays at 9 pm ET/PT. It will become available soon in the UK via Sky TV.
And check out other programming premiering this March on HBO Max.