It’s been a damn good month for hoops fans. The NCAA Tournament introduced us to St. Peter’s and the mustached hero of our dreams. The NBA playoffs are already gifting us with drama (ahem). And Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty is reaching Showtime-esque heights.
Meaning? The swirl of HBO-ified dramatizations of Jack McKinney’s bicycle accident, Magic Johnson’s what-if moment with Phil Knight and Nike, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s crisis of faith have us reliving the ’80s all over again. Now, we’ve reached Episode Seven of Winning Time, “Invisible Man.” The monster of the week, so to speak? Bird, Larry Bird. At long last, after teasing us for nearly the entire season, the series gives us the Boston Garden showdown between Bird and Magic Johnson—and it didn’t disappoint. In a game featuring plenty of taunting between the star rookies, major Red Auerbach antics, and some brilliant Jason-Clarke-as-Jerry-West-isms, the (fictional) Lakers pulled it out, winning 99-98. If you’re curious how the game played out in real life, we have you covered.
Turns out that the final score of the matchup wasn’t too far off from what we witnessed in Winning Time. The history books logged 100-98, in favor of the Lakers. In the real-life game, Norm Nixon (not Michael Cooper, as Winning Time shows) made two late free throws to seal the lead. Johnson was hardly a factor in this face-off, scoring one point over 21 minutes, since he was dealing with an injury. But the environment was surely every bit as wild as the series teases, with Auerbach infamously making sure the visitors’ locker room didn’t have hot water in its showers, among other trolling. It’s worth mentioning that Winning Time skips over Johnson and Bird’s first NBA game against each other, at an early-season meeting at The Forum when the Lakers whooped the Celtics, winning 123-105. To the tune of 23 points from Johnson, no less. (Of course, the game at the Forum marked the first time Bird and Johnson faced each other since the 1979 National Championship, when Michigan State downed Indiana State.)
That title game, by the way, likely inspired the beefing we see between the two future Hall-of-Famers in Winning Time. Just watch the highlights for yourself, and tell us how much their, let’s call it, competitive spirit jumps out to you.
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