Not everybody loves Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, HBO’s dramatization of the origins of the 1980s “Showtime” L.A. Lakers teams. And among former Lakers, specifically, it seems nobody loves Winning Time.
Jerry West, who was in the Lakers’ front office for the 1979-80 season, is threatening to sue HBO and showrunner Adam McKay for their portrayal of him as an “out-of-control, intoxicated rage-o-holic.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote that Winning Time is “boring” and suffers from “shallowness and lazy writing.”
Magic Johnson told Variety, “I haven’t watched it, I’m not gonna watch it,” protesting the fact that he and his former teammates weren’t involved in the making of the show.
Among those who didn’t have occasion to suit up for the Lakers, meanwhile, opinions are mixed. Some love it, some hate it, and some continue to watch it despite hating it, because it’s one of those shows. It’s fun, it’s stupid, it plays as fast and loose with the facts as Magic used to with the ball in his hands. So, as if staring down the barrel of Jerry Buss’ comb-over while having a drink with him at the Forum Club, you can either call out its absurdity or shut up and suspend disbelief.
Whatever one’s opinion, one thing is for sure: A polarizing program airing in the Sunday night HBO bloc is going to be a part of the cultural conversation. So just as we did the last time a sports-based show found itself in so lofty a pop culture position, we’re giving Winning Time the “You can’t legally bet on it, but what if you could?” treatment in advance of Sunday night’s season finale. (Disclaimer: These odds are for entertainment purposes only. So, don’t sue us if you don’t like ’em, Mr. West.)
The penultimate episode left off on the eve of the Lakers’ NBA Finals series against the Philadelphia 76ers. How hard can it be to predict what more will happen when anyone with an internet connection can review what went down in May 1980?
Harder than you’d think. This is a show that, for the very first game of the season, finessed Kareem’s box score and depicted Magic throwing him a pass Don Ford actually threw, and has kept changing the details to fit other narratives ever since. With that in mind, we present markets for on-court depictions:
- Minutes of screen time spent on Game 6 (the no-Kareem, Magic-at-center game): over/under 10.5
- Points scored by Magic in Game 6: over/under 42.5. (He scored 42 in real life, which may or may not be a big enough number to satisfy the Winning Time writers.)
- Rebounds by Mark Landsberger shown in Game 6 (from out of the 10 he recorded in real life) as he gets a dramatic Ollie from Hoosiers hero edit: over/under 9.5
- Will the show mention that this is the first NBA season to use the 3-point line, a notable fact thus far ignored during the series? Yes, +500; No, -700
- Percentage of the audience that says, “Wait, who’s that guy?” as Jamaal Wilkes, who has barely been shown in the first nine episodes, goes off for 37 points in Game 6: over/under 82.5
- Percentage chance the writers cut Wilkes out of Game 6 because it takes away from the Magic narrative: over/under 83.5
- Magic-Kareem slo-mo hugs shown during the finale: over/under 1.5. (Note that they did not actually share any public hugs during the series against the Sixers.)
- Average age of the actors hired to play the 76ers’ starting five in the finals: over/under 52.5. (Did you see the guy playing Dr. J, who was 30 years old at the time? James Lesure is currently at the midpoint between Julius Erving’s age in 1980 and his age in 2022.)
Moving on to markets that won’t be decided on the Hollywood hardwood:
- Dollars HBO ultimately settles with West for: over/under 999999.5
- Times Jerry Buss breaks the fourth wall and talks to the camera: over/under 4.5
- Girls Dr. Buss beds at once after the Lakers win the title: over/under 4.5
- Lecherous advances by Dr. Buss on women who want nothing to do with him: over/under 4.5
- Will we see Buss playing poker, as he loved to in real life? Yes, +600; No, -850
- Will Pat Riley’s hair be slicked back by the end of the episode? Yes, -300; No, +230. (In real life, he apparently started doing it in 1981.)
- Number of times Magic calls Cookie “Cook” vs. number of times Magic calls Kareem “Cap”: “Cap” -1.5 mentions
- Number of Lakers killed by Spencer Haywood during the finale: over/under 0.5
- Will we see a prosthetic of Haywood’s self-circumcised equipment in the finale? Yes, +10000; No, off the board
- Will they work Red Auerbach into the finale even though the Celtics have already been eliminated because they hired Michael freakin’ Chiklis and they’ve barely used him? Yes, -110; No, -110
- Will there ever be a more impressive piece of casting in a sports movie/show than Quincy Isaiah as Magic Johnson? Yes, +2000; No, -4000
- When will Season 2 of Winning Time be set? 1980-81 season, +250; 1983-84 season (first Lakers-Celtics/Magic-Bird finals), +150; Magic’s HIV-diagnosis season (hey, remember that scene from the premiere that the show has since forgotten about?), +1200; the Shaq-Kobe era, +400.