Did Magic Really Suffer a Knee Injury? How Long Was He Out in the 1980-81 Season?

Image Credit: Warrick Page/HBO

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty‘ season 2 takes viewers back to the 1980s as the LA Lakers basketball team was only starting to build their dynasty that would dominate the NBA for the next decade and beyond. The second season premiere is set during the early portions of the 1980-81 NBA season as the Lakers prepare to defend their title and aim to win back-to-back NBA Championships.

However, the team’s hopes are dented when their star player Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah), suffers a knee injury that sidelines him for several weeks. If you are wondering whether Magic was injured in reality and how long he was out, here is everything you need to know about Magic Johnson’s injury during the 1980-81 season! SPOILERS AHEAD!

When Did Magic Johnson Suffer a Knee Injury?

The second season of ‘Winning Time’ takes place after the LA Lakers win the 1980 NBA Championship. The season 2 premiere, titled ‘One Ring Don’t Make a Dynasty,’ sees the Lakers preparing for the upcoming season under Head Coach Paul Westhead and Assistant Coach Pat Riley. In the episode, the Lakers deal with Captain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s declining physical prowess. In his absence, Magic Johnson takes center stage and leads the Lakers to some important victories. However, he suffers a horrible knee injury early in the 1980-81 season, sidelining him for nearly twelve weeks.

Image Credit: Warrick Page/HBO

The show’s depiction of the incident is based on reality, as Magic Johnson suffered a brutal knee injury during the early portions of the 1980-81 season. According to reports, Magic suffered the aforementioned knee injury during the November 11, 1980, game against Atlanta Hawks. Hawks’ Tom Burleson fell on the back of Magic’s knee during the game. However, the injury wasn’t discovered until the following game when the LA Lakers faced off against Kansas City at the Forum on November 18, 1980. After a medical examination, it was discovered that Magic had torn cartilage inside his left knee. As a result, Magic was forced to remain on the sidelines with a lengthy recovery and rehabilitation period ahead of him.

How Long Was He Out in the 1980-81 Season?

At the time of Magic’s injury, the LA Lakers had won fifteen of their twenty regular season games. Johnson averaged 21.4 points per match, improving his 18 points per match average during his rookie season. He also led the league in steals and assists, averaging 3.4 steals and 8.6 assists per game. Magic also improved in the rebounds department scoring 8.2 rebounds per match. However, Magic’s knee injury meant that the Lakers would be without their star player for a horde of games, and it was initially believed that Magic could make a return by mid-February, which was a rather optimistic return date. However, the Lakers saw a dip in form without Magic and barely managed to make the playoffs.

Image Credits: ABC News/YouTube

Johnson missed an incredible 100 days and 45 matches for the 1980-81 season due to his injury. He returned to the court on February 27, 1981, in a home game against the New Jersey Nets. “Maybe it was a blessing in disguise to let me know that it can end as fast as it started. Wham. It made me keep it in the right frame of mind. It kept me from getting a big head and thinking that things would always be like this,” Magic told the New York Times in 1980 about his injury. The five-time NBA Champion would later recall his injury period as the most down he had felt in his playing career. However, Magic’s return could not prevent the Lakers from bowing out in the playoffs against Houston Rockets in the first round.

Read More: Was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the Original 1980 NBA Finals MVP Winner?