In Winning Time: The New World episode 4, the episode centers around the 1981 pre-season. Tensions rise higher than ever between the players and Paul Westhead. Pat Riley is put in his place by the now ego-centric Westhead more time than he can count. It all begins with a Lakers vs. Celtics preseason match-up.
After a devastating end to last season, Jerry Buss needs his team to prove who the best of the best is. Unfortunately, preseason games are nothing to sneeze about. Especially when it was against all of Boston’s bench players. The Lakers finally won the game but they have a long way to go before they can destroy Boston’s stars like that.
Paul Westhead has become unrecognizable from the man we first met in season one. Just as fame can get the best of a player Westhead proves it can get in the mind of a coach too. He has completely embraced the Hollywood lifestyle and even McKinney has recognized that. Throughout the episode he is continually butting heads with superstar Magic Johnson and the team is suffering for it on and off the court.
Westhead is still in love with his systematic offense and Magic is sick of being told how to play ball. Even with the offense that Paul swears by they are barely winning games when they are actually winning. Though I do understand the belief in your system where Westhead went wrong was letting his pride stand in the way of the betterment of the team.
The one thing Paul Westhead was right about was how the team would react to Magic Johnson’s multi-million extension. It’s quite hard to keep secrets in sports and Jerry Buss’ plan to keep the 25-year 25 million deal under wraps failed. Red Auerbach got wind of the news and took pleasure in telling the press knowing the drama that would unfold by doing it. Jerry and Red have about as big of a rivalry as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson do when it comes to winning.
Winning Time: Bring on the trade talk
Westhead’s algebraic offense may center around Kareem but after learning about Magic’s contract he’s not a happy man. He’s a man who has already dealt with so much drama at the hands of Magic and is now under the impression he’s not valued as much even after all he’s done for the Lakers. And he’s not the only one, Norm Nixon is not having it at all. With a deal of this magnitude, other players no longer know where they stand. Most of the players went season to season just hoping not to get cut. Magic doesn’t think the money is a big deal and it doesn’t have to change anything. But that is easy to say for someone who has it.
Cut to the first game of the regular season the Houston Rockets reminded the Lakers of the pain they caused last season. They ended their first season game the exact way they ended the sting of last season. Later, they had to sit idly by while they played Boston for the title.
The only other team Kareem can see himself playing for is the New York Knicks and he’s already got one foot out the door and in trade talks. Westhead may value Kareem much more than Johnson but Jerry Buss has made it clear where his loyalty lies.
Meanwhile Magic wants to get back to playing real basketball. This is not the showtime dream he signed up for. It’s boring basketball and not getting a lot of results. Pat Riley tries to be the median between Magic and Westhead but the pot is boiling and there’s not a lot Pat can do in his position.
Westhead does not care how amazing Johnson may be no player is bigger than the team. And if he doesn’t abide by what Westhead tells him then he can ride the bench. At this point, the bench is starting to look mighty pretty to Magic. Westhead has completely lost control of his team and Jerry West is about to lose his mind over it. He even mentions to Jerry Buss that they should go to the drawing board and look for another coach.
Buss isn’t about to do that for two seasons in a row. Westhead does his best to convince Buss that his offense will work if he gives him complete control without anyone intervening. Buss continues to give him what he wants but that can only last for so long without result. He will be on his way out if he doesn’t give him another title.
On the other side, Pat Riley knows his days are numbered. There’s no way Westhead keeps this position any longer and if he goes Riley is convinced he’s going with him.
Winning Time: Skip on the Buss family drama
If there is one thing we can do without it’s the Buss family drama. The awkwardness between Honey and Jeanie leaves little to be desired. With Jeanie’s rabid jealousy, I’m not sure how Jerry the womanizer brought so many women in and out of his life. I do think Jerry and Honey have about as normal of a relationship as we’ve seen with him, but I’d like to see less of it.
Jerry having Jeanie help pick out an engagement ring and Jeanie continually eyeing Honey down was way on the creepy side. No matter how nice Honey is Jeanie remains dismissive with her. There is a father and daughter line that should be crossed in my opinion.
Johnny Buss is still reeling from the disappearance of his latest girlfriend thanks to Jeanie’s trade. He’s acting like a toddler who can’t get his way. In reality, he is a grown and wealthy man who could go wherever she went if he was actually in love.
Winning Time: Magic wants out
Paul Westhead believes the system is not working because Magic isn’t into it. Everyone has to buy into the system or it won’t work. Pat Riley understands that but he thinks Westhead should meet him halfway. When Riley tries to make adjustments to the playbook to make both parties happy it’s met with complete avoidance by Westhead. It doesn’t take long for Riley to see he no longer has respect for him. This is not a partnership anymore.
Magic wants the money, the power, and the love. But he can’t have all three. This team went through blood, sweat, and tears just to have a minimal contract and Magic comes in with the ego he has and gets a gigantic contract with little effort. It was not that long ago that Magic was giving a pep talk to Kareem about humbling yourself a little more. Now it’s Magic who should be taking his own advice.
By the end of the episode, the team is in disarray. Though the Lakers have won three games in a row, the off-the-court toxicity is about to destroy everything Buss worked hard to build. In Salt Lake City all hell breaks lose with Lakers and Utah fans start heckling Magic. The Lakers do keep winning just barely, and it’s not pretty.
Everyone on television can see the intensity between Westhead and Magic and it’s not a good look. Westhead has no problem getting in Magic’s face and telling him exactly what he’s doing wrong. He tells Johnson that he holds the power, not him, and it doesn’t matter how much money he makes or how many times he runs to Jerry Buss to cry about his problems. It’s his team, not Magic’s.
After the game the press is allowed into the locker room for questions and Magic tells them he’s not having this anymore. He wants to be traded. It’s a big jump after getting such an overrated contract but Magic has reached the end of his rope.
Episode 5 of Winning Time airs this Sunday at 9 PM ET on HBO.