There was a lot to unpack on the latest episode of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty season 1. Who knew the introduction of yet another Jerry was going to bring forth such jaw-dropping moments to the series, and with them, questions?
Was Jerry Tarkanian in line to replace Jerry West as the head coach of the Lakers? Was Tarkanian’s representative Vic Weiss murdered? Also, on a completely unrelated note, was Magic Johnson actually hanging out with a man name Zastro?
Here’s what we’ve determined about what’s fact and what’s fiction for Winning Time episode 3. And be sure to catch up with our Fact vs Fiction for Winning Time episode 2 here.
Did Jerry Tarkanian almost coach the Lakers?
At the beginning of episode 3, after Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) berates Jerry West (Jason Clarke) for quitting in the manner in which he did, Buss comes up with an idea for West’s replacement after looking in a newspaper. He decides he wants to hire Jerry Tarkanian (Rory Cochrane) to coach the Lakers. Tarkanian was the well-known head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
As shown in the series, Tarkanian wasn’t leaping at the chance to move up to the pros when initially proposed. But then Buss pulled out his charm and waved in Tarkanian’s face the prospect of him being the highest-paid coach in professional sports. That’s when the college basketball coach was on board to pack up and move to Los Angeles. However, before Tarkanian could sign on the dotted line, his friend was found dead (an event will dig into more shortly).
So were these sequences of events true in real life? Not remove.
For starters, the possibility of Tarkanian coaching the Lakers was not Buss’ idea according to Bleacher Report. Former Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke approached Tarkanian with an offer to coach the NBA team in 1977. The deal on the table was $70,000 per year with a $2,500 raise annually. Tarkanian, while tempted, ultimately declined the offer.
Fast forward to 1979 when the outgoing Lakers owner Cooke and incoming owner Buss reached out to Tarkanian again about coaching the team. Tarkanian still wasn’t sold on leaving college ball, but then Cooke (not Buss as portrayed), verbally agreed to pay Tarkanian $700,000 if he agreed to coach the NBA team. Additionally, the latter was offered a pair of season tickets for every home game and three luxury automobiles, one for him, his wife and his oldest daughter. Tarkanian was set to sign the contract to coach the purple and gold for five years.
Unfortunately, before he could do that, Tarkanian received news of the death of Victor Weiss (Danny Burstein), his business representative and friend. That information would ultimately sway Tarkanian to stay in Vegas. It should also be noted that his four kids weren’t exactly thrilled by the idea of moving to LA.
Was Victor “Vic” Weiss murdered?
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Vic Weiss was indeed found murdered in the back of his Rolls-Royce on June 17, 1979. His hands were tied behind his back and he had two gunshots to the head. As high profile as this murder was at the time, the crime still remains unsolved to this day.
What the FBI has managed to gather about the case, is that while alive, Weiss accumulated a gambling debt of more than $60,000. In order to pay down this debt, he started running packages of laundered cash between Vegas and LA for organized crime.
Against better judgment, Weiss started stealing some of the laundered money. Even after being caught and warned, he continued skimming money off the top of the already illegal transactions. Ultimately, authorities believe his connections and actions of him with the mob are what got him killed.
Did Zastro really exist?
From our research, Zastro (Sheaun McKinney) appears to be the product of Hollywood magic. it seems the Winning Time writers and producers created the “unsavory” character of Zastro to be a metaphor for the appetite and access Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) had to women in Los Angeles.
in to Sports Illustrated article penned by Johnson himself, the NBA legend stated, “I confessed that after I arrived in LA, in 1979, I did my best to accommodate as many women as I could.”
While Zastro wasn’t real, something Winning Time showcased but didn’t make clear for viewers was Magic’s living arrangements when he moved to LA. After leaving Michigan, he did move into a condo, which was hinted at in the episode. What wasn’t spelled out was the fact that the condo belonged to Jerry Buss as reported in The Washington Post.
Did Pat Riley’s dad play Major League Baseball?
The answer to this question is yes. Leon “Lee” Riley did actually play a year as a left fielder in the MLB in 1944 for the Philadelphia Phillies. Prior to his times in the majors, Lee played over two decades in the minor leagues according to Baseball Reference.
Speaking of the Riley men, fans of Winning Time should pay close attention to Pat Riley’s (Adrien Brody) journey on the show. As history has taught us, he will eventually be the head coach of the Showtime era of the Lakers. It will be interesting to see what leads him there as episode 3 portrays Riley working on his voice from him to be a color commentator for the team.
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.