Winning Time Season 2 Episode 2 Recap & True Story

WARNING: SPOILERS ahead for Winning Time season 2.


  • Season 2 of HBO’s Winning Time focuses on the off-the-court drama during the 1980-81 season of the Los Angeles Lakers, including tensions between players and coaching staff.
  • The show takes creative liberties in dramatizing events and presenting speculative information as fact, potentially misrepresenting pivotal moments and characters in the series.
  • The conflicts between Coach Paul Westhead and Magic Johnson stem from their contrasting styles and approaches to the Lakers’ offense, with Magic’s fame and flashy style causing resentment among some teammates. This partially led to the team’s early exit from the 1981 NBA Playoffs.

HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty season 2 navigates toward the off-the-court drama behind the 1980-81 Los Angeles Lakers. New locker room tensions rise between both players and members of the coaching staff even after the exciting return of Magic Johnson. Magic came back to the lineup following a knee injury that left him sidelined for 45 regular season games. Winning Time season 2, episode 2 “The Magic Is Back” depicts how the reintegration of Magic into the Lakers’ rotation created a number of structural and interpersonal conflicts that led to their surprisingly early exit from the 1981 NBA Playoffs.

Winning Time season 1 took a number of creative liberties in order to dramatize the events that take place on the show, including the severity of the real-life feud between Magic and Lakers point guard Norm Nixon. Winning Time season 2, episode 2 follows a similar pattern to the rest of the series in presenting speculated information as fact. This approach, while entertaining, clouds some of the most pivotal moments and plot developments in the HBO series with mild inaccuracies and misleading representations of its characters. The second episode of the seven-part Winning Time season 2 wrapped up the entire 1981 Lakers season and sets the stage for the inevitable true downfall of Coach Paul Westhead.

RELATED: The Lakers’ 1980 Roster & Who Plays The NBA Team In Winning Time Season 2

The Lakers’ Norm Nixon For David Thompson Trade Was Actually On The Table

Pat Riley and Jerry West in Winning Time season 2

The rumors that the Lakers were interested in pursuing Denver Nuggets forward David Thompson during the 1980-81 season were true and the team was, in fact, considering trading Nixon. Although there were never any official requests, meetings, or negotiations between the Lakers’ and Nuggets’ front offices, members of the Lakers staff such as Jerry West were interested in giving their team a jolt in order to supplement the absence of Magic while he was injured. Winning Time reasonably depicts how Coach Westhead could have brashly opposed the trade because of his admiration of Nixon and his willingness to protect his systematic offense, which Magic and other big egos such as Thompson posed a threat to.

Magic’s Fame Started To Effect The Lakers’ Locker Room In 1980-81 Season

1981 Lakers in locker room in Winning Time season 2

Several of Magic’s teammates did begin to view the star’s attraction to the spotlight as a distraction to their overall dynamic and chemistry. Magic’s incredible rookie season, which ended in an All-Star selection and an NBA title, placed him at the center of the basketball world. This sudden rise to fame irritated his teammates to the point where some even started to become jealous and resent him. Along with Magic’s sizable salary at the age of 21, it makes sense that many of his older teammates were annoyed with the young player’s flashy and disruptive style. This locker room friction ended up tearing the team apart after their 1981 round-one playoff loss to the Houston Rockets.

There’s No Record Of Norm Nixon Bad-Mouthing Magic Johnson To The Press

Norm Nixon LA Times article in Winning Time season 2

Winning Time season 2, episode 2 creates a very clear explanation as to how the cunning Los Angeles sports reporters during the early 80s leaked rumors of frustration and jealousy inside the unstable Lakers locker room. The press certainly acted as a pervasive presence in the Lakers locker room during their 1980-81 season and arguably played a role in the eventual dissension of the team. However, there is no explicit account of the real-life Norm Nixon going on the record with the Los Angeles Times saying that “Nobody will remember Magic Johnson in fifteen years.”

The pesky journalist Fred Fletcher in Winning Time season 2 also appears to be a fabrication that embodied the determined nature of many Los Angeles sports reporters at the time. Fletcher emerges as a persistent writer trying to get the scoop on the locker room dynamics of the former NBA Champs. However, the LA Times article “Norm Nixon: Life At No. 2” which appears to have been published on March 3, 1981 in Winning Time is nothing but a creative plot and narrative device in the HBO series. The fake article highlights the true off-the-court tensions that the team encountered but misleadingly uses Norm’s character as the primary motivation for the Lakers’ internal conflicts.

RELATED: Winning Time Season 2 Soundtrack Guide – Every Song & When It Plays

Jack McKinney Actually Won Coach Of The Year With His New Team In 1981

Jack McKinney wins Coach of the Year in Winning Time season 2

Ironically, another newspaper headline in Winning Time season 2, episode 2 does in fact reflect the accurate announcement of former Lakers’ coach Jack McKinney winning NBA Coach of the Year. After getting released by the Lakers, McKinney took the head coaching job with the Indiana Pacers and won the coveted award for the 1980-81 NBA season. McKinney led the Pacers to their first NBA winning season in franchise history during that season, making him the clear frontrunner for the coveted award.

This factual inclusion in Winning Time emphasizes how Paul Westhead might have been hanging onto the past too intently, trying to honor and recreate the style of coaching that he had learned under the guidance of McKinney. It also presents a justification for Westhead’s entitlement towards his systematic offense, since his mentor had just won Coach of the Year for sticking to his own methods. This hints in Winning Time that Westhead might be better suited to coaching someplace else.

Magic Johnson Really Shot An Air Ball To End The 1981 Lakers’ Playoff Run

Quincy Isaiah as Magic Johnson shooting in Winning Time season 2

Another accurate depiction in Winning Time season 2 is the final game of the Lakers’ 1980-81 season in which Magic really did airball when the game was in his hands. The HBO show does an excellent job tying in the rising power struggle between Magic and Westhead in this final scene, particularly with the contradictory encouragement of assistant coach Pat Riley for Magic to take over. The episode dives into the shortcoming and disagreements behind the real-life airball, demonstrating the need for some type of change within the Lakers organization before the 1981-82 season.

Paul Westhead & Magic Johnson Conflict Began During The 1980-81 Season

Paul Westhead and Magic Johnson in Winning Time season 2

The source of the conflict between Westhead and Magic is spot-on in Winning Time season 2 since it began from a difference in styles, techniques, and approaches to the Lakers’ offense. Magic’s signature flashy moves and willingness to take over the game in big moments directly contrasted with Westhead’s efforts to run a systematic and efficient offense that was deliberately planned beforehand. Westhead chose to live and die by his playbook in Winning Time season 2, which Pat Riley tries to warn him will not get him very far with a generational talent like Magic. These fundamental differences begin to emerge in Winning Time season 2, episode 2 and will direct the course of the fallout between the NBA coach and his young star.

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