HBO's "Winning Time" Cast and Their Real-Life Counterparts
HBO's "Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty" is back for season two this summer. The series tells the real-life story of the Los Angeles Lakers NBA team in the 1980s. That's when the franchise started a new era of dominant basketball, dubbed "Showtime" by their new owner, Dr. Jerry Buss. Earvin "Magic" Johnson joined the team at the end of 1979 for his rookie year, and he and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers to the NBA championship that season. The team then went on to dominate the league for the rest of the decade.
Under the leadership of Buss and head coach Paul Westhead, the team became a fun, exciting attraction that drew in celebrity fans and made home games an event. Between Magic on the court and the brand-new Laker Girls on the sidelines, the environment at games was transformed.
The series features Quincy Isaiah as Magic, John C. Reilly as Buss, Solomon Hughes as Abdul-Jabbar, Jason Clarke as Jerry West, Adrien Brody as Pat Riley, Jason Segel as Westhead, Tamera Tomakili as Earlitha Kelly (aka Johnson's present-day wife, Cookie Johnson), and Hadley Robinson as Jeanie Buss. Season two takes place between 1980 and 1984.
Even before its premiere last year, the show was met with criticism for stretching the truth from many of the real people depicted, especially Magic. Last March, he released his own documentary, "They Call Me Magic," and Hulu released "Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers" docuseries.
Keep reading to see all the actors side by side with the real-life people they're portraying.
Quincy Isaiah as Earvin "Magic" Johnson in "Winning Time"
Magic Johnson in Real Life
Magic joined the Los Angeles Lakers for the 1979-1980 season after he was drafted first overall in the NBA draft. Johnson played 13 seasons for the Lakers. He won league MVP three times, played in nine NBA finals, and was a member of five championship Lakers teams in the '80s.
In 1991, Magic announced that he is HIV positive. Though he faced a lot of discrimination from other NBA players because of the news, the news was also essential to helping get rid of the stigma that HIV/AIDS only affects gay people. To this day, Magic remains a vocal advocate for HIV/AIDS patients and research.
Solomon Hughes as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in "Winning Time"
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Real Life
Abdul-Jabbar was already the centerpiece of the Lakers when Johnson was drafted by the team, having joined the squad in 1975. In 1980, he was named league MVP for a record sixth time, and he was an essential part of getting the Lakers its 1980s championships.
In 1980, Abdul-Jabbar starred in the classic comedy film "Airplane!" He's continued to be a pop culture icon, appearing on shows like "Full House," "Living Single," "Scrubs," "New Girl," and "The Big Bang Theory" and even competing on "Dancing With the Stars." He also wrote for the 2019 "Veronica Mars" revival.
John C. Reilly as Dr. Jerry Buss in "Winning Time"
Dr. Jerry Buss in Real Life
Buss used the money he made in real estate to buy the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979. The deal also included ownership of the Los Angeles Kings hockey team, which he later sold. Buss had a vision for a flashier, more exciting game, inspired by the college basketball games he loved so much. When the WNBA formed in 1996, he became the owner of the Los Angeles Sparks. Buss died in 2013 after a battle with cancer.
Jason Segel as Paul Westhead in "Winning Time"
Paul Westhead in Real Life
Westhead became the Lakers' head coach in 1979 when then-head coach Jack McKinney was in a near-fatal bike accident. Westhead led the team to the 1980 championship, but he was fired early in his third season after tensions with Johnson bubbled over.
DeVaughn Nixon as Norm Nixon in "Winning Time"
Norm Nixon in Real Life
Norm Nixon was an essential piece of the Lakers during the Showtime era and played for the team from 1977 through 1983. He was then traded to the San Diego Clippers.
Delante Desouza as Michael Cooper in "Winning Time"
Michael Cooper in Real Life
Cooper played for the Lakers from 1978 to 1990. A defensive stalwart, he was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1987. After retiring, he joined the Lakers coaching staff and has continued to coach both men's and women's basketball at different levels since then.
Joel Allen as Kurt Rambis in "Winning Time"
Kurt Rambis in Real Life
Rambis was signed by the Lakers as a free agent in 1981 and was a critical part of their 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988 championship teams. Rambis, who is Greek American, was known for wearing his trademark glasses during games. He retired in 1995 and moved into coaching, working for the Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and, most recently, the New York Knicks.
Jason Clarke as Jerry West in "Winning Time"
Adrien Brody as Pat Riley in "Winning Time"
Jerry West and Pat Riley in Real Life
West (left) coached the Lakers in the '70s before moving to the team's scouting department. In 1982, he became the team's general manager. He stayed with the team until 2000.
Riley (right) served as an assistant coach to Westhead and took over head-coaching duties when Westhead was fired. Riley stepped down from the team in 1990, having helped the team secure four championships.
Tamera Tomakili as Earlitha "Cookie" Kelly in "Winning Time"
Earlitha "Cookie" Kelly in Real Life
Johnson married Kelly — better known as Cookie Johnson — in 1991. The pair met as college freshmen in 1977 and have two children together: EJ and Elisa. Johnson also has a son, Andre, from another relationship.
Hadley Robinson as Jeanie Buss in "Winning Time"
Jeanie Buss in Real Life
Jeanie Buss — the daughter of Dr. Jerry Buss — got involved with the Lakers after her father bought the team. After her father's death, she took over as team president and represents the team on the NBA Board of Governors. When the Lakers won the NBA Championship in 2020, she became the first woman controlling owner to win the title.
Michael Chiklis as Red Auerbach
Red Auerbach in Real Life
Red Auerbach coached the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1966. Once he retired from coaching, he served as president and front office executive of the Celtics until his death in 2006. Auerbach is credited as redefining basketball into the high-paced game it is today. While many applauded Auerbach for integrating the Celtics during the 1950s and 1960s, during the 1980s, the team fielded a mostly white team, particularly troubling given the team and city's history of racism in sports. Auerbach died in 2006.
Sean Patrick Small as Larry Bird in "Winning Time"
Larry Bird in Real Life
Bird and Magic faced off for the first time in the 1979 NCAA championship, when his Indiana State took on Magic's Michigan State. It previewed their professional lives, where Bird led the Celtics on the East Coast, as Magic dominated with the Lakers on the West Coast. Bird played for the team from 1979 to 1992, and they won the championship in 1981, 1984, and 1986. Bird coached the Indiana Pacers from 1997 to 2000 before moving into executive leadership for the team. Bird and Magic ultimately faced off in the NBA Finals three times, and their rivalry is considered one of the greatest ever in all sports. They also played together on the 1992 Olympics Dream Team, which won the gold medal. Bird and Magic ultimately became friends.
Tracy Letts as Jack McKinney in "Winning Time"
Jack McKinney in Real Life
McKinney was the creator of the "Showtime" style of basketball that the Lakers used to great success, but his one season with the team was ended early due to a bike accident. He went on to coach the Indiana Pacers and Kansas City Kings (who are now the Sacramento Kings). He eventually moved back to Philadelphia where he did color commentary for the 76ers. He died in 2018.
Spencer Garrett as Chick Hearn in "Winning Time"
Chick Hearn in Real Life
For 41 years, Hearn was the voice of the Los Angeles Lakers; he even broadcast 3,338 consecutive Lakers games, starting in 1965. For much of the period, his broadcasts were aired on both radio and TV at the same time, and he was particularly skilled at quickly narrating events in real time. Hearn also coined some classic basketball phrases, like slam dunk. He died in 2002.