Didn’t Jerry West want Magic Johnson?


This article contains spoilers for Episode 1 and Episode 2 of “Winning Time.”

HBO’s “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” chronicles the Lakers’ glorious, glitzy “Showtime” era, beginning in 1979 when Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) bought the Lakers and added Magic Johnson ( Quincy Isaiah) to the list. . Based on the book “Showtime” by Jeff Pearlman, the series oscillates between fact and fiction, but generally manages to capture the essence of the people it represents.

Buss’ mission to start winning NBA championships and restore the team’s celebrity image meant shaking things up, inevitably ruffling some feathers.

One of the main sources of conflict in the first two episodes is the Lakers’ drafting of Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Signing him is non-negotiable for Buss, as Johnson aligns perfectly with his “billboard” vision for the team. It doesn’t sit well with head coach and former Lakers player Jerry West (Jason Clarke).

In fact, we first meet him on a golf course, ranting and swearing about why writing Johnson up is a bad idea. “Do you really want to know what’s wrong with Johnson? … One thing: he’s too big”, he shouts, adding that he “smiles too much”.

At the top of the second episode, he expresses his frustrations at not having a “solid four” to lead the team. Spencer Haywood is his first choice, but he’s too expensive. After Buss gives West “carte blanche” to build the rest of the roster his way, West tells star players Norm Nixon (DeVaughn Nixon) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes) that he plans to keep Johnson at away from the spotlights.

So, was Jerry West really against Magic Johnson joining the Lakers?

'Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty' Cast and Character Guide (Photos)

According to ‘Showtime’, West “just wasn’t entirely convinced” that a 6-foot-9 player could thrive as a point guard. His favorite pick was Sidney Moncrief, who ended up being drafted fifth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. West went so far as to try to convince outgoing Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke not to draft Johnson. For a time, there was “strong belief” that Moncrief would become the next Laker.

In “Winning Time,” West’s crusade is likely used to illustrate his lifelong battle with depression, mood swings, and perfectionism, which are documented in “Showtime” and in West’s autobiography, ” My Charmed, Tormented Life”.

Johnson and West (as general manager) won five NBA championships together. In 2022, Johnson gave an enthusiastic speech honor him with the NBA Legend of the Year Award. In other words, it’s safe to assume that their relationship has improved despite West’s initial apprehensions.

“Buying Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” streams exclusively on HBO Max.

'Winning Time' Fact Check: Did Magic Johnson Really Almost Reject Lakers' Offer?

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