As Max’s Winning Time approaches its season finale this Sunday, the narrative is becoming somewhat clunky. While the events of Magic Johnson and Jerry Buss’s inaugural season with the Lakers were well-suited for the first season, the second season, now covering three NBA seasons, has lost momentum as it jumps from one Wikipedia paragraph to the next.
In fact, the series may have done itself a disservice by overly emphasizing the rivalry between the Lakers and the Celtics. Although this rivalry was dominant in the NBA during the 1980s, the Philadelphia 76ers, who faced the Lakers in the NBA Finals three out of four years, have been relegated to a mere footnote. Winning Time has been so intensely focused on Larry Bird that it has neglected to give due attention to the 76ers’ Moses Malone and Dr. J.
The upcoming season finale will finally bring the Lakers and the Celtics face-to-face in the NBA Finals, marking the first of three matchups between these two powerhouses in the 1980s. Spoiler Alert: The Celtics emerge victorious in the initial showdown, and for Lakers fans, this will mark a frustrating conclusion to the second season. It could be even more frustrating if this also turns out to be the end of Winning Time, a real possibility according to author Jeff Pearlman, upon whose book the series is based. The ratings have dipped during this second season, and the reason is not hard to discern: Except for the drama between Pat Riley and Paul Westhead and Magic Johnson’s involvement, it has been a relatively lackluster journey, one in which a championship against the 76ers and a loss in the NBA Finals against the 76ers have been condensed into mere montages.
The rivalry between the Lakers and the Celtics will naturally extend throughout the decade, but it remains unclear how many more off-the-court storylines there are to sustain the series. Magic Johnson didn’t contract HIV until 1991, which was the last year of the Showtime Era and the year in which Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls secured the first of six titles in the ’90s. The last Lakers/Celtics matchup took place in 1987, and Kareem retired in 1989. These two matchups, Kareem’s retirement, and Magic’s diagnosis (which served as the series opener) could potentially offer enough material for a third season, but it would entail stretching the narrative across several years, which may not be ideal for storytelling.
I’ve enjoyed the second season, and I would certainly tune in for a third, although I wouldn’t shed tears if it were to be canceled. Celtics fans, on the other hand, might do a little dance.
Regarding the fact vs. fiction aspect in this week’s episode:
— Debbie Allen and Norm Nixon did indeed marry in 1984, and they are still happily married, with four children, including DeVaughn Nixon, who portrays Norm Nixon in the series.
— Former SNL cast member (and current sports podcaster) Jay Mohr makes an appearance in the series as Tom Collins, Kareem’s manager. In real life, Mohr married the real-life Jeanie Buss last week. By the way, Jeanie Buss holds a strong appreciation for Winning Time and considers John C. Reilly’s portrayal of her father to be fantastic. She is hopeful that the series will receive a third season as well.
— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did indeed lose his house (along with his album collection) in a fire. Lakers fans sent him hundreds of jazz records to replace his lost collection, which genuinely sparked a newfound appreciation in Kareem for Lakers fans. However, he was primarily thankful that his family was unharmed in the fire.
— We discussed the palimony suit between Honey and Jerry Buss last week. The amount in question was $25 million, not $100 million, but the show may be adjusting for 2023 inflation. Honey Kaplan is based on Puppi Buss, although there were two women who filed palimony suits against Buss. There may have been some minor bigamy involved in this matter as well.