In “The Second Coming”, the Boston Celtics are coming off their 14th NBA Championship in 1981. Magic Johnson and Jerry Buss can only look on in bitterness watching Boston take their title back.
So many questions loom large for Jerry Buss and the company between the lack of team chemistry and the toxic atmosphere Paul Westhead is creating in the front office. The audience is fortunate enough to witness the backstory of Larry Bird in this dramatic depiction of realistic events sounding both the Lakers and the Celtics.
Winning Time recap: The history of Larry Bird
In Winning Time we see a glimpse into the life of Larry Bird. During a flashback in 1974, Larry drives his station wagon down the old dirt roads of French Lick, Indiana to pay his father a visit. When Larry enters his dad’s garage there is anything but pleasantries. His first question to his son is what was he doing back here? He should be at practice. Little does he know that Larry has quit school. His father is a man who has little confidence in himself and even less as a father. Even uttering the words to his son “You’d be better off without me,” sadly for Larry Bird he would soon have to find out those weren’t just words.
Indiana University was not a great fit for Larry Bird. It was never a place where he fit in. Bird’s father clearly had some emotional problems after the divorce from his mother, but he always remained proud of his son. Proud that he was gifted with the opportunity to make a better life for himself than he had. When Larry broke the news to them that he dropped out of school and wasted away his opportunity he had a look of sheer disappointment. Deep down he knows he’s not a good influence on his son and he surely doesn’t want Larry to live the life he has. It doesn’t take a lot of brain power to see that there were subtle hints of depression and thoughts of suicide already.
In 1975 Bird’s father takes his own life and Larry walks in to find his dad face down on the floor filled with blood as he lays next to his rifle. Probably one of the worst experiences of Larry’s life that became a turning point in his early career.
Shortly after his devastation, he is invited to a practice at Indiana State University. At first, he has no intention of going and wants to be left alone by the recruiter. He was won over in the end and went on to ISU. Larry Bird gets a second chance and doesn’t waste it. Obviously, becoming one of the greatest players the game has ever seen.
Winning Time: Showtime needs security
Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper are off in Lansing coaching the Magic Johnson Basketball Camp and all of Magic’s failures are running through his head. The weight of Larry Bird’s jealousy dominates him after his mistakes from last season. After Cooper tells him how the Lakers gave him a big contract extension for doing what he does best, Magic gets it in his head he wants the same thing. He wants to be a lifetime Laker but needs the team to invest in him for the foreseeable future.
In Magic’s personal life he is convinced Cookie will one day take him back if he works hard enough. Kind of like how he does with the team. He wins them over in the end. Cookie is not budging for him. At the end of the day, she doesn’t want to live the California lifestyle. Fast cars, fast women, and even faster men. Her life is in Lansing. However, the pair do start talking about hypothetical possibilities of how life would work if they ever got back together. Maybe there’s hope on the horizon after all.
Jerry Buss and Magic talk about his future and the job security he wants. For Buss, money is not the issue. Money can always be made the issue is if the other guys on the team find out it could create jealousy. Now Buss has no problem making him a Laker for life but he has to hold up to his end of the bargain, and that is leadership. He offers Magic Johnson 25 years for 25 million dollars, but he wants the details about the extension to stay sealed. It may cause conflict with the rest of the team so all the press needs to know is it is a continuation of the extension he already has.
Winning Time: Westhead vs. Riley
There has been no love lost between Paul Westhead and Pat Riley. It feels like nothing more than a disaster waiting to happen. While Westhead is more concerned about the pecking order Pat is more concerned about the players. And Jerry West has had it with Westhead’s antics.
While West wants to go scout for some free agents Westhead has other plans. He wants to do his scouting and bring in his players. As well as bring in his own assistant. Though his new assistant Micheal Tibault is a step below Pat it makes you wonder how long it’s going to be before he is on his way out too. At the moment Westhead doesn’t care who he pisses off whether it’s Riley, West, or even Buss. He has become power-hungry and his downfall is happening right before our eyes.
Pat Riley is pretty good about keeping his cool but when Westhead trades Jim Chones all hell breaks loose in the office. It wasn’t something he ran by Riley and apparently, he didn’t need to. Not only is he sharing all this information with his new assistant but he’s also purposely excluding Riley from team meetings.
Jerry West was against the trade and his urge to sign free agent Mitch Kupchak. Jerry Buss eventually gives Westhead the money to sign but Paul is creating a dictatorship-like atmosphere. Chones thinks it’s insane for a premier NBA team to have an English teacher running the ship, and he’s not wrong.
Winning Time: Trouble is always brewing at the Buss House
The Buss’ love life could not be any better. Things are as smooth as silk with Honey. Monopoly night does not go as planned but Jerry is in so much bliss with Honey by his side he isn’t phased by it. He is deeply falling back in love with her, and as much as Honey tries to fight it she is too. She begs him not to hurt her again because she knows only he can. Though she’s carved out a beautiful life for herself she knows he could destroy it if she had to go through it again.
Jeanie is feeling left out around Honey’s presence even though she remains very sweet to his children. When Jeanie wants to talk about business Jerry shuts it down quickly. She’s ready to make some big moves in her tennis franchise and tells pops she wants to recruit Martina Navratilova. Jeanie doesn’t handle the immediate rejection well from her dad but it doesn’t stop her from being the future boss she is.
She ends up trading her brother Johnny’s new girlfriend. While it may not have been the sweetest move Johnny has got to grow up and realize this is a business they are in. In other words, her brother told her that Buss would never love her as much because she was not one of his sons.
Norm Nixon has a visit with Buss to get down to the bottom of the Magic situation. It’s no big secret they don’t get along but if they are both going to continue to be assets to the team it all has to end. For one Nixon couldn’t run his mouth to the journalists about his issues with a teammate. It’s bad for business. It’s bad for morale. There has to be communication because this lack of chemistry will do nothing but kill the team. And he can’t have that. He has built this team to win.
I do like how Jerry Buss is incredibly direct with the team. There’s no time for any nonsense. He lets Nixon know that he could easily trade him to any team and they’d be happy to have him. Nixon claims he wants to be a Laker and that everything is all good with Magic. He may have said the words but his facial expression told a different story.
Winning Time: How Larry Bird became a Celtic
Towards the end of 1979, we see Red Auerbach paying the young Larry Bird a visit before the draft. Bird is unsure about being a Laker because Red said he was a corner man to the press and stated nobody’s ever built a franchise around a corner man. Bird has some insecurities about moving to a big city like Boston. Red assures him it’s the perfect fit for him. Boston is full of hard-working class people.
People at the bottom who don’t have a lot to live for. In the long run, Red wins Bird over because of his love for him over Magic Johnson. If there is one consistent thing throughout Winning Time it’s the intense rivalry between those two players. In the final seconds, it’s shown Larry Bird added to his father’s scrapbook of his 1981 NBA Championship, just below it was a clipping of where Magic beat Bird in college. The two of them go well beyond a healthy rivalry. It’s high-level competition, and they are out for blood.