Are Paul Westhead and Magic Johnson Friends in Real Life?

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HBO’s ‘Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty‘ is a sports drama series about the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. The series tells a fictionalized account of the Lakers’ “Showtime” era under owner Jerry Buss. In the show’s second season, the Lakers struggle to replicate the success of their 1980 NBA Championship-winning season. Moreover, the feud between star player Magic Johnson and head coach Paul Westhead adds to the team’s woes until the latter is fired. As a result, viewers must wonder if the show’s depiction of the duo’s falling out is accurate and whether they have stayed friends in real life. In that case, here is everything you need to know!

What Happened Between Paul Westhead and Magic Johnson?

The Los Angeles Lakers drafted Magic Johnson during the 1979 NBA Draft. At the start of the 1979-80 NBA season, owner Jerry Buss appointed Jack McKinney as the head coach of the LA Lakers. However, an unfortunate bike accident left McKinney on the sidelines just 13 games into the season. As a result, McKinney’s assistant coach, Paul Westhead, was appointed as the head coach first on an interim basis and then full-time. During the 1979-80 NBA season, Westhead led the Lakers to the NBA Finals, where they clinched the title with Magic winning the Finals MVP. However, early in the 1980-81 season, Magic suffered a knee injury that kept him out of the court for nearly a hundred days.

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Meanwhile, Westhead implemented a new style of play that did not suit Magic. During the 1981-82 season, Magic and Westhead frequently butted heads over the team’s style of play. In a press statement given to the New York Times in November 1981, Johnson expressed his unhappiness with playing for Westhead. Magic also revealed that he could no longer continue under Westhead and wanted to be traded to another team. Magic stated his desire to speak with team owner Jerry Buss about potentially being traded away. Instead, the Lakers announced that Westhead had been fired from his position as head coach. Hence, it is safe to say that Westhead and Magic had a falling out.

Are Paul Westhead and Magic Johnson Friends?

The falling out between Paul Westhead and Magic Johnson is one of the key plot points of ‘Winning Time’ season 2. In the series, Magic almost walks off the court after a heated argument with Westhead during a game. However, this almost certainly did not happen in reality. Moreover, when Magic complains to Jerry Buss about the limitations of Westhead’s offense, the start player verbally abuses his coach. According to ‘Showtime’ written by Jeff Pearlman, such an instance did not take place.

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Furthermore, unlike the show’s implication that Magic was responsible for Westhead’s firing, Buss had contemplated firing Westhead for several weeks before Magic demanded to be traded. Pearlman’s book also states that Westhead did not blame Magic for his firing. Ultimately, Westhead and Magic went their separate ways after the former was fired during the 1981-82 NBA season. Westhead became one of the few coaches to win an NBA and WNBA Championship. On the other hand, Magic won the NBA Championship five times with the LA Lakers before returning to serve as the president of basketball operations in 2017.

During a March 2022 interview, Westhead spoke about his relationship with Magic. Westhead revealed that he and Magic did not keep in touch over the years as he went to coach other teams. However, Westhead stated Magic called him in 2020 and invited him to a Showtime Lakers reunion trip to Hawaii. While Westhead did not attend the trip due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, he found the former basketball star’s gesture sweet. Westhead also stated that he and Magic now share a nice friendship, with the ex-Lakers coach also attending the premiere of the documentary series ‘They Call Me Magic.’ Hence, it is safe to say that it is all water under the bridge between Westhead and Magic, as they seem to have forged a friendship in recent years.

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