The Glorious Showtime Lakers Dynasty and ‘Winning Time’: Jerry Buss’ Unforgettable Legacy

The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty: “Winning Time” on HBO

HBO’s latest show “Winning Time” delves into the captivating journey of the Los Angeles Lakers dynasty during the 1980s. The storyline centers around the rapid ascent of the team after real estate tycoon Jerry Buss acquired the Lakers from previous owner Jack Kent Cooke in 1979. In this article, we explore the intriguing narrative portrayed in the series, highlighting the key moments and individuals that defined the Lakers’ unparalleled success.

Jerry Buss: The Visionary Owner

At the heart of the Lakers’ transformation was Jerry Buss, brilliantly portrayed by John C. Reilly in the show. Buss wasn’t content with merely owning a basketball team; he aimed to revolutionize the entertainment aspect of the sport. He envisioned Lakers games as an immersive experience, combining the allure of the Playboy Mansion with the glitz and glamour of the Oscars. Buss brought this vision to life by introducing the sensational Lakers Girls dancers and reserving courtside seats for Hollywood A-listers like the iconic Jack Nicholson.

The Showtime Era: Magic Johnson and the Upbeat Tempo

The Showtime-era Lakers embodied the vibrant spirit of Southern California in the 1980s. Under Buss’ ownership, the team showcased a flashy, upbeat-tempo offense with Magic Johnson as their charismatic leader. Buss made a pivotal move by drafting Magic, the standout player who had recently won the 1979 March Madness tournament with Michigan State.

Interestingly, Magic’s selection in the NBA Draft was no ordinary occurrence. The Lakers and the Chicago Bulls were the two teams eligible for the top pick in the 1979 Draft. A coin flip decided the outcome, favoring the Lakers. Despite initial reservations held by some within the organization, such as head coach Jerry West, Buss championed the decision to draft Magic. West, known for his surly demeanor in the show, had doubts about Magic’s suitability as a point guard due to his height and perceived lack of toughness in the NBA’s rugged environment.

The Coaching Dynamics: West, McKinney, and Riley

Shortly after acquiring the Lakers, Buss found himself needing a new head coach when Jerry West resigned from the position. West played a pivotal role in the recruitment of Jack McKinney, an assistant coach from the Portland Trail Blazers known for his innovative free-flowing, fastbreak offense, which had helped secure an NBA title in 1977.

While many attribute the high-octane offense that defined the Showtime Lakers to Pat Riley, it was actually McKinney who initially engineered it. His fluid motion offense relied heavily on fastbreaks, even after made baskets, and Magic’s skill set made him the perfect orchestrator for McKinney’s system. This approach, however, wasn’t without its detractors, with veterans like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar initially skeptical of the new strategy.

Tragically, during his first season with the Lakers, McKinney suffered a serious bicycle accident that forced him out of coaching duties. Assistant coach Paul Westhead stepped into the role, utilizing McKinney’s playbook. Despite the adversity, the Lakers triumphed, winning the 1980 NBA championship with Magic at the helm. This marked the birth of the legendary Showtime Lakers, much to the chagrin of established figures in the NBA hierarchy, including Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics.

In 1981, Pat Riley assumed the head coach position after Westhead’s dismissal and led the Lakers to four more championships throughout the 1980s. The team’s success continued into the new century, with Phil Jackson taking over as head coach and steering the Lakers to an additional five titles.

Jeannie Buss: A Trailblazer

In a historic milestone, Jeannie Buss, Jerry Buss’ daughter, became the first female majority owner to experience the ultimate triumph of winning an NBA championship. This achievement was realized in 2020 when LeBron James and the Lakers secured the coveted title. Jeannie Buss’s ascent symbolizes the enduring legacy of the Lakers and their ongoing commitment to innovation and success.


“Winning Time” on HBO provides an enthralling glimpse into the rapid rise of the Los Angeles Lakers dynasty during the 1980s. Jerry Buss’ visionary approach as the team’s owner, coupled with the talents of Magic Johnson and the coaching prowess of figures like Pat Riley and Phil Jackson, propelled the Lakers to greatness. The Showtime Lakers not only redefined the game of basketball but also established a cultural phenomenon that transcended sports.


1. Who played Jerry Buss in the HBO series “Winning Time”?

In HBO’s “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,” Jerry Buss is portrayed by the talented actor John C. Reilly. Known for his versatility in both comedic and dramatic roles, Reilly brings Buss’ character to life with remarkable depth.

2. What was Jerry Buss’ vision for the Lakers?

Jerry Buss envisioned the Lakers as more than just a basketball team; he wanted to create a one-of-a-kind entertainment experience. He aimed to evoke the same aura and excitement that one would feel when visiting the glamorous Playboy Mansion or attending the prestigious Oscars. Buss achieved this by introducing the captivating Lakers Girls dancers and providing exclusive courtside seats for renowned Hollywood celebrities.

3. What made the Showtime-era Lakers so iconic?

The Showtime-era Lakers were characterized by their fast-paced, high-energy style of play. Led by Magic Johnson, they mesmerized audiences with their dazzling basketball skills and exhilarating fastbreak offense. Their dynamic and entertaining brand of basketball became synonymous with the vibrant culture of Southern California in the 1980s.

4. Who were the key coaches during the Lakers’ success?

Jack McKinney, Pat Riley, and Phil Jackson played pivotal roles as head coaches during the Lakers’ winning seasons. McKinney initially implemented the fastbreak offense that defined the Showtime Lakers, while Riley further refined and perfected it, guiding the team to multiple championships. Phil Jackson, renowned for his Zen coaching philosophy, led the Lakers to additional titles in the new century.

5. What was the significance of Jeannie Buss’ ownership?

Jeannie Buss, the daughter of Jerry Buss, became a trailblazer in the sports industry as the first female majority owner to win an NBA championship. Her leadership and commitment to excellence ensured that the Lakers’ legacy of success continues into the present day. Jeannie Buss represents the continued innovation and progress within the Lakers organization.

Doug I. Jones

Doug I. Jones

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