How ‘Winning Time’ 1984 NBA Finals episode compares to reality originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
HBO’s Winning Time drama series based on the 1980s “Showtime” Lakers aired its final episode Sunday night as it was canceled after only two seasons.
Ironically, the show about the Lakers dynasty ended with the Boston Celtics coming out on top.
The season two finale covered the epic 1984 NBA Finals featuring Los Angeles and Boston. The seven-game series marked the first of three Finals showdowns between the archrivals in the decade.
The Celtics beat the Lakers in ’84 to improve to 8-0 all-time against L.A. in the Finals. Winning Time covered the top storylines from the series including Larry Bird’s famous “We played like sissies” quote, Kevin McHale’s clothesline of Kurt Rambis, and C’s fans storming the court after Game 7.
Here’s how those moments, and other key storylines in the episode, compared to the real deal.
Game 1 – Did Lakers players really run straight to their bus after beating Boston?
While the Winning Time season two finale does a great job summarizing the best moments from the 1984 NBA Finals, it begins with a fictionalized version of Game 1. The Lakers beat the Celtics in Boston but they did not sprint straight to their bus after their win to avoid the raucous Garden crowd, unlike what was shown in the episode. In fact, they walked off the court and their superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hung around for a postgame interview after notching 32 points and eight rebounds.
Game 2 – Magic’s miscue costs L.A.
The Celtics evened the series at one game apiece thanks in large part to an uncharacteristic Magic Johnson error. Winning Time’s version of events was almost identical to the real thing as it emphasized Johnson losing track of the clock, dribbling for roughly 11 seconds, and not passing to a wide-open Abdul-Jabbar in the paint.
The game went into overtime, where Gerald Henderson’s clutch steal and layup propelled Boston to a 124-121 win.
Game 3 – ‘We played like sissies’
Johnson made up for his Game 2 blunder with a brilliant performance in Game 3 to put the Lakers back up in the series. As shown in the episode, he set an NBA Finals record with 21 assists. He remains the only player ever to dish out 20 or more assists in the Finals, and he did so on three occasions.
His longtime rival Larry Bird was none too pleased with the Celtics’ effort. Winning Time shows a fed-up Bird telling reporters, “We played like sissies” and that to change things, the team would need “12 heart transplants.” Yes, that really happened.
Game 4 – Bird hits game-winner over Magic in chippy C’s win
The Celtics responded to Bird’s call-out with an emphatic statement in Game 4. They forced the Showtime Lakers out of their comfort zone with their physical play. The chippiness shown in the Winning Time episode was an accurate depiction of reality as Bird and Abdul-Jabbar indeed got into it, and Kevin McHale caused another dust-up after clotheslining Kurt Rambis at the rim.
Winning Time gets back into dramatization mode when it shows Bird telling McHale not to apologize to Rambis after the incident. While the scene underscores Bird’s competitive nature, there is no evidence such a discussion took place between him and McHale.
Bird went on to drain the game-winner over his archrival Johnson with 16 seconds left in overtime to even the series at 2-2.
Game 5 – Celtics turn up the heat at the Garden
Boston Garden reached a temperature of 97 degrees Fahrenheit for Game 5. However, that was due to a heat wave in Boston and a lack of air conditioning in the arena. It wasn’t because general manager Red Auerbach, as Winning Time suggests, purposefully cut off the AC to give his team an advantage. But Pat Riley and the Lakers weren’t convinced Auerbach wasn’t up to something.
Regardless, the heat clearly got to the Lakers as Abdul-Jabbar really did need an oxygen mask while on the bench. The Celtics cruised to a 121-103 victory behind Bird’s 34 points and 17 rebounds to take a 3-2 series lead.
As for the Winning Time official who passed out due to the heat, that was based on real-life referee Hugh Evans, who collapsed from dehydration during halftime and was replaced by alternate ref John Vanek.
Game 6 – Did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar overcome migraines to lead Lakers over C’s?
Yes, Abdul-Jabbar almost missed Game 6 due to severe migraines but fought through the ailment to lead L.A. to a crucial victory. He tallied 30 points and 10 rebounds to force a Game 7 in Boston.
“Sometimes they’re not real bad, but last spring they were the worst I’ve ever had,” Abdul-Jabbar told the Los Angeles Times about his migraines a year later.
Game 7 – Celtics prevail and fans storm the court
Winning Time ends with the Celtics winning the 1984 NBA Finals with a 111-102 triumph in Game 7. L.A. cut a 14-point deficit to three points late in the fourth quarter but Boston held on to secure its 15th NBA title. Bird was named Finals MVP after averaging 27 points and 14 rebounds in the series.
But what about all that postgame hoopla?
C’s fans really did storm the court following their team’s championship win, Abdul-Jabbar really did have his goggles ripped off his head, and Rambis was sued for allegedly punching a fan in the nose.
The Lakers would get their revenge a year later. They beat the Celtics in the 1985 Finals to end their streak of eight consecutive NBA championships lost to Boston.