After this week, there’s only one episode left in a Winning Time series that has yet to receive a Season 3 renewal. And they came out swinging.
Every episode has felt like it was compounding the emotional weight of the previous episode, resulting in truly heartfelt human examinations of characters that were mostly debaucherous caricatures of their real selves in Season 1. Last week, Winning Time finally introduced us to the manageable insanity of Pat Riley as Adrien Brody transformed into the fashionable authoritarian that led the Showtime Lakers. This week, the penultimate episode blew the lid off of issues percolating all season while putting some of our favorites through unforeseen trials and tribulations.
Jerry Buss’s (John C. Reilly) relationship with Honey (Ari Graynor), whom he married earlier in the season, had become strained due to his erratic schedule running the Lakers. Near the end of this week’s episode, that megamansion became much emptier after Honey stormed out angrily, informing Buss she knew he was still legally married to his previous wife , JoAnn Mueller. Meanwhile, the off-again, on-again relationship between Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) and Cookie Keely (Tamera Tomakili) went to a new height after the pair got engaged following a rekindling of their love.
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But no one had their world rocked this episode like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes).
What happened during Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s mansion fire on Winning Time?
Out of all the flashy and short-tempered players on the Lakers of the ’80s, Abdul-Jabbar was the even-keeled veteran who commanded respect through stoicism. Outside of Winning Time depicting him as an ornery curmudgeon who will tell a child looking for an autograph to fuck off, the Lakers legend has been mostly free of controversy. That all changed in the latest episode of Winning Time when Abdul-Jabbar returned to his Bel Air to see his home engulfed in flames while newscasters reported on the scene. The basketball trophies and rare vinyl collection of over 3,000 albums were charred and strewn across the street. Luckily, his girlfriend and son were able to escape the fire.
According to the newscaster, the family’s cat saved the day for his girlfriend and son. A shocked yet relieved Abdul-Jabbar embraces his son and girlfriend inside the ambulance they sat in as they recovered from the fire. Always the model of professionalism, Abdul-Jabbar eschewed any time off in the wake of the fire and was suited up to play a November game against the Dallas Mavericks. But not before a swarm of dedicated fans paid their respects to the Lakers’ captain by mobbing him at the arena to give him vinyl records to replace the one he lost in the fire. The gesture inspired Abdul-Jabbar to deliver a rousing motivational speech to his team in the locker room about giving their all to the spectators who spend their last dollar to watch them play.
What happened during Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s fire in real life?
As demoralizing as the mansion fire was to Abdul-Jabbar in real life, Winning Time still found ways to dramatize it a bit more while not entirely matching the severity of the real-life events. In the show, Abdul-Jabbar raced home only to find his mansion set ablaze, but he made it in time to comfort his son and girlfriend after they escaped the fire. Unfortunately, that was impossible in real life since the fire was extinguished 45 minutes after firefighters responded to the fire while Abdul-Jabbar was in Dallas following a game preparing to face the Dallas Mavericks. Also, it wasn’t only his son and girlfriend who escaped the fire but also four other people who were asleep in the mansion when the house caught fire. And that’s just the beginning of the revisions.
During the episode, Johnson remarked Abdul-Jabbar taking time off following the fire is more important than “Dallas in November,” referring to a game against the Dallas Mavericks in the early part of the season. Placing the events early in the season makes sense narratively, given that Abdul-Jabbar gave a speech that would set the emotional tone for the season to propel the Lakers into the conclusive 1984 NBA playoffs. While the Lakers did face the Mavericks after the fire, the actual fire took place on January 31, 1983, almost ten months before the show’s timeline. Fans showering him with vinyl gifts didn’t happen before the Mavericks game but instead happened four months after the January 1983 fire. The speech he gave to the team following the fire may have also been fabricated for dramatic effect as Lakers coach Pat Riley was quoted in a May 1983 New York Times article saying Abdul-Jabbar “grew very inwardly” and had a business-as-usual attitude upon his return, but didn’t mention any speech.
Even if Abdul-Jabbar didn’t have a heroic reconnection with his girlfriend and son or a season-shifting speech to his team, Winning Time captured the spirit of how the fire changed him. “Because at first, I didn’t let it affect me; I had a lot of long, delayed reactions to the fire. Things I used to have, I didn’t have anymore, and I wouldn’t notice it until much later,” Abdul-Jabbar said in the May 1983 New York Times article. Essentially, Winning Time is an extrapolation of human emotions from historical events rearranged chronologically to maximize the impact, and it accomplished that with this riveting latest episode.
Keith Nelson is a writer by fate and journalist by passion, who has connected dots to form the bigger picture for Men’s Health, Vibe Magazine, LEVEL MAG, REVOLT TV, Complex, Grammys.com, Red Bull, Okayplayer, and Mic, to name a few.