HBO’s new show “Winning Time” tells the story of the rapid ascension of the Los Angeles Lakers dynasty in the 1980s after real estate impresario Jerry Buss bought the team from previous owner Jack Kent Cooke in 1979.
Buss won 10 NBA championships as the owner of the Lakers, beginning with Magic Johnson and the “Showtime” Lakers with five championships between 1980 and 1988.
|Jerry Buss and Lakers NBA Championships|
|Year||Lakers Head Coach
||NBA Finals Opponent
|1980||Paul Westhead||Philadelphia 76ers|
|1982||Pat Riley||Philadelphia 76ers|
|1988||Pat Riley||Boston Celtics|
|1987||Pat Riley||Boston Celtics|
|1988||Pat Riley||Detroit Pistons|
|2000||Phil Jackson||Indiana Pacers|
|2001||Phil Jackson||Philadelphia 76ers|
|2002||Phil Jackson||New Jersey Nets|
|2009||Phil Jackson||Orlando Magic|
|2010||Phil Jackson||Boston Celtics|
In “Winning Time,” Buss is played by John C. Reilly, the amazing comedic actor from “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” (2007) and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (2006). Reilly also did a stellar job in more serious roles with director Paul Thomas Anderson in “Boogie Nights” (1997) and “Magnolia” (1998).
Buss: Playboy and visionary
Buss didn’t just want to own a professional basketball team; he wanted to create a new level of entertainment. He provided fans with a visceral experience when they bought a ticket to watch the Lakers play at the LA Forum. Buss wanted a Lakers game to conjure up the same vibe as a visit to the sultry Playboy Mansion combined with the glitz and glamour of the Oscars. The creation of the tantalizing Lakers Girls dancers and special courtside seats for A-list Hollywood celebrities like Jack Nicholson brought Buss’ vision to fruition.
The Showtime-era Lakers embodied Southern California in the 1980s with a flashy, upbeat-tempo offense led by Magic Johnson. After Buss purchased the Lakers, his first major roster move included drafting Magic, who had just won 1979 March Madness with Michigan State.
Magic left college after his sophomore year to enter the NBA Draft. In a serendipitous moment, the Lakers were one of two teams eligible for the #1 pick in the 1979 NBA Draft. The NBA commissioner flipped a coin to determine if the Chicago Bulls or the Lakers would get the first pick. The Lakers won the coin flip, and the rest is history. Buss insisted on drafting Magic despite reservations from the front office, particularly head coach Jerry West, who believed Magic was too tall to play point guard and too soft to handle the rugged nature of the NBA.
West, McKinney, and Riley
West — who’s portrayed as a surly, alcoholic, malcontent in “Winning Time” — quit as the Lakers’ head coach after Buss bought the team. After stepping down, West helped the Lakers find a new head coach. He lobbied for Jack McKinney, who was an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers and who designed a free-flowing, fastbreak offense that helped them win a title in 1977.
A lot of fans think Pat Riley came up with the high-octane offense synonymous with the Showtime Lakers. However, McKinney’s engineered Showtime with his basic philosophy of a fluid motion offense that aggressively employed fastbreaks, even after made baskets. Magic was the perfect player to run McKinney’s fastbreak offense, much to the dismay of veterans including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
During his first season with the Lakers, McKinney had a serious bicycle accident, and assistant coach Paul Westhead took over. Westhead utilized McKinney’s playbook, and the Lakers won the 1980 NBA championship during Magic’s rookie season. Thus, the Showtime Lakers were born. Buss happily celebrated the victory in his first season as the owner of the Lakers, much to the dismay and disbelief of NBA hardliners like Red Auerbach from the Boston Celtics.
Riley became the head coach after Westhead was fired in 1981 and guided the Lakers to four more titles in the 1980s.
Buss and the Lakers would win another five titles in the new century with Phil Jackson at the helm.
Jeannie Buss, the daughter of Jerry Buss, became the first female majority owner to win an NBA championship when LeBron James and the Lakers won the title in 2020.