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Fact vs Fiction: Winning Time season 1 episode 6 — Was there a Magic Johnson Nike deal on the table?

Quincy Isaiah as Magic Johnson in Winning Time episode 6
Quincy Isaiah as Magic Johnson in Winning Time episode 6 (Image credit: Warrick Page/HBO)

We’re more than halfway through the first season of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty. The latest episode titled "Memento Mori," had one of the most jaw-dropping moments of the entire season. Usually known for his business savoy, Magic Johnson turned down a lucrative shoe deal with Nike. 

As a viewer, the portrayal of Johnson choosing Converse over Nike was almost unfathomable given what we know about which brand grew to become the number one shoe company in the world with a multi-billion dollar evaluation. So naturally, one has to ask if what we saw on the show was true? 

Here’s what we’ve determined was fact and what was fiction for Winning Time episode 6. 

By the way, you can catch up with our Fact vs Fiction for Winning Time episode 5 here. Also, check out how Olli Haaskivi felt about playing Nike co-founder Phil Knight in this week’s episode.  

Did Magic Johnson turn down Nike to go with Converse?  

Quincy Isaiah as Magic Johnson holding a Nike shoe in Winning TIme

Quincy Isaiah in Winning Time (Image credit: Warrick Page)

In the recent episode of Winning Time, Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) is heavily pursued by popular shoe companies hoping to see the Laker’s guard represent their brand. While Converse, Puma and Adidas were all willing to throw big bucks at Johnson to have him sign on the dotted line, Nike offered him something different. 

Nike co-founder Phil Knight (Olli Haaskivi) offered the rookie $1.00 for every shoe shipped and $100,000 in stock options at $0.18/share. While Johnson was intrigued by the deal, particularly the prototype shoe Knight had with Magic on it, the basketball player opted to sign with Converse for $100,000. Did Magic turn down Nike and sign with Converse instead? 

Sadly for Magic, this is true. 

Johnson has been quite vocal that the one major regret he has in business is passing on that Nike deal. He even mentioned in an interview with Ellen that he’s still kicking himself for that decision. 

While all of the particulars of that Nike deal haven't been publicly disclosed (despite the exact offer shown in the series), Johnson said in the video above that Knight offered him "a lot of stocks." To give you an idea of how much money could have been left on the table, INC (opens in new tab) used the price of Nike shares back in 1979/1980, along with savoy business practice recommendations of that era, to estimate that even if Johnson had accepted $10,000 in Nike stock, long term, that would have grown into $650 million. No wonder the Laker great still kicks himself. 

Although it may not be anywhere near what he could have made with Nike, Johnson partnered with Converse in a business arrangement that lasted 12 years. At one point, it was estimated he was making roughly $2 million annually according to the Los Angeles Times (opens in new tab)

Interestingly enough, Nike would eventually purchase the Converse brand in 2003. 

Did Paul Westhead coach the Lakers?  

Jason Segel as Paul Westhead standing at podium in Winning Time

Jason Segel as Paul Westhead (Image credit: Warrick Page/HBO)

As shown in Winning Time and discussed in last week’s Fact vs Fiction for episode 5, Lakers head coach Jack McKinney (Tracy Letts) had an unfortunate bike accident. With him being unconscious and Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) in a bind, Buss turned to Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) to temporarily step into the role as the head coach. Although incredibly nervous and guilty of using Shakespearan quotes at the wrong times, Westhead stepped into the role.  So did Westhead coach the Lakers in real life? 

The answer is yes. 

Westhead would be the third head coach of the Lakers in 1979 after Buss purchased the team (following Jerry West and Jack McKinney). With McKinney in a coma, Westhead was tasked with temporarily leading the Los Angeles NBA (opens in new tab) team. That temporary position would eventually become a permanent one.

What’s also a fact is Westhead was a true fan of Shakespeare. As the Los Angeles Times (opens in new tab) describes, Westhead was no stranger to referencing literary works and quoting Shakespeare during his time with the Lakers. What’s not well known, is the level of confusion people had when speaking to the head coach when he was in a MacBeth kind of mood. 

Did Magic Johnson date Cindy Day?  

Rachel Hilson and Quincy Isaiah as Cindy Day and Magic Johnson in Winning Time

Rachel Hilson and Quincy Isaiah in Winning Time (Image credit: Warrick Page/HBO)

Fans of Winning Time were first introduced to Cindy Day (Rachel Hilson) when Magic Johnson was entangled with her in a car near his home church in Lansing, Mich. In the most recent episode, viewers learned that Day and Johnson were still involved in some capacity. 

While she attempted to make herself his girlfriend, he continually rebuffed that idea. Even after she tells Johnson she loves him, he never returned the affection. The Laker eventually throws his connection with Cookie in her face and asks Day’s own father to end things with her on his behalf. The question is did this really happen? 

This is false. 

Through our research, we couldn’t pinpoint a woman named Cindy Day tied to Magic Johnson. With that being said, it appears Cindy is a representation of women that he would get involved with but would have to make it clear to that he was not interested in having a girlfriend. Additionally, he always told these other women that Cookie would be in his life, even if she and Johnson weren’t romantically together at a particular time. In his own words, Johnson stated in his autobiography My Life (opens in new tab)

"When I was with other women, I always told them about Cookie. Most of them already knew about her. I made it clear to everyone that I wasn’t looking for a girlfriend. Some women took me at my word. I think that others saw Cookie as a challenge. And a few even told me, 'I’m going to spoil you so much that you’re going to forget about her.' But nobody ever succeeded." 

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty airs on HBO and HBO Max platforms on Sundays at 9 pm ET/PT. The series is now available in the UK via Sky TV (opens in new tab) 

Terrell Smith has a diverse writing background having penned material for a wide array of clients including the federal government and Bravo television personalities.  When he’s not writing as Terrell, he’s writing under his pseudonym Tavion Scott, creating scripts for his audio drama podcasts. Terrell is a huge fan of great storytelling when it comes to television and film. Some of his favorite shows include The CrownWandaVision, Abbot Elementary and Godfather of HarlemAnd a fun fact is he's completely dialed into the TLC 90 Day Fiancé universe.