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Fact vs Fiction: Winning Time season 1 episode 8 — Did Spencer Haywood have a drug problem?

Wood Harris as Spencer Haywood in Winning Time
Wood Harris as Spencer Haywood in Winning Time (Image credit: Warrick Page/HBO)

It’s hard to believe that there are only two more episodes left in Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty season 1. While this may be disheartening news for fans, real-life former Lakers Jerry West and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who aren’t happy about the series will probably relish seeing the show take a break. With that being said, let’s discuss episode 8.

In this latest installment of Winning Time, there were a few moments that caused us to scratch our heads or drop our jaws in surprise. Did Paul Westhead and Jack McKinney's relationship sour because of the Lakers' coaching job, especially given the two were like brothers before the bike accident? Did Magic Johnson look up to Dr. J? Did Spencer Haywood have an issue with drugs? Also, who the heck is Rhonda and was she pregnant with Magic’s child?  

Here’s what we’ve determined was fact and what was fiction for Winning Time episode 8.

Did Paul Westhead and Jack McKinney fall out over the Lakers' head coaching job?  

Tracy Letts and Jason Segel talking in an office as Jack McKinney and Paul Westhead in Winning Time

Tracy Letts and Jason Segel in Winning Time (Image credit: Warrick Page/HBO)

On Winning Time, when Jack McKinney (Tracy Letts) and Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) arrive to take control of the Lakers as head coach and assistant coach, respectively, they do so sharing a close brotherly bond. As McKinney gets the Lakers off to a great start with his new strategy of fast-paced basketball, Westhead is in the shadows supporting him. Then the bike accident occurred, leaving Westhead to serve as interim head coach. 

However, as shown in this recent episode, Westhead’s temporary status was starting to look a little more permanent. He was leading the Lakers in a very successful season without his friend. This isn't lost on a recovering McKinney and things between the two sour. McKinney even questions his loyalty. So was the shift in their relationship Hollywood exaggeration or fact? 

Fact. 

Despite the closeness between the two coaches and their families, their relationship took a hit in 1980. As reported in Sports Illustrated (opens in new tab), shortly after McKinney’s bike accident, Westhead insisted he would never take the former’s job and would step aside when McKinney was well enough to resume work. But Westhead never stepped aside. 

Jerry Buss wasn’t necessarily motivated to hand the reins back over to McKinney, as the Lakers were winning. McKinney was reduced to some scouting assignments for the team. All of this caused understandable friction between Westhead and McKinney. The two got to the point that they apparently rarely spoke unless it was Lakers related. 

As Cassie Westhead, the coach’s wife, put it in that same 1980 Sports Illustrated article: 

"They can't share our joy over Paul's success, of course. And how many times can you say you're sorry for the way things turned out?”

Was Magic Johnson starstruck by Dr. J?  

Tamera Tomakili, Quincy Isaiah, James Lesure and Naomi C Walley as Cookie, Magic, Dr. J and Turquoise Brown Erving in Winning Time

Tamera Tomakili, Quincy Isaiah, James Lesure and Naomi C. Walley in Winning Time (Image credit: Warrick Page/HBO)

Another basketball legend made his series debut this week. Julius Erving II or Dr. J (James Lesure) appears at the NBA All-Star lunch and Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) is all smiles. Johnson was clearly an admirer of his and was trying his best not to be starstruck, which is comical considering he pretty much told Cookie (Tamera Tomakili) not to start fanning out in the room.  

Later, Johnson goes to Erving's home and soaks up every bit of advice Erving offers. However, once Dr. J dunks on Johnson and hands the Lakers an embarrassing loss, Johnson starts to look at Erving differently. The Laker sees him as the fierce competition he is. Was Johnson in awe of Dr. J? Did Dr. J really embarrass the Lakers following the All-Star break?

Yes and no. 

Johnson was definitely an admirer of Dr. J. In an interview for the New York Post (opens in new tab), he told interviewer and former NBA player Jalen Rose: 

"I looked at guys like Dr. J. I wanted to be like him. And so when I saw him flying through the air and then when I saw the Iceman poster and him sitting on two blocks of ice in the gray sweatsuit, I said, 'Oh, man, I want that.'"

Even playing against him on the court, Johnson occasionally found a little time to be in awe of what Dr. J could do in basketball. Check out Johnson’s thoughts on one Dr. J move in particular that left him stunned.  

Here's the fiction. The Lakers' loss to the 76ers on February 10, 1980, was not that bad. The score was 104 to 105 according to Basketball Reference (opens in new tab). Los Angeles actually embarrassed Philadelphia with a score of 124 to 103 earlier that season. 

Did Spencer Haywood have a drug problem?

Wood Harris as Spencer Haywood in Winning Time

(Image credit: Warrick Page/HBO)

A few weeks ago on Winning Time, Richard Pryor (Mike Epps) met up with some of the Lakers in the Forum Club and offered them drugs. At the time no one took Pryor up on the offer, though Spencer Haywood (Wood Harris) looked intrigued by the idea. Now, we see Haywood deal with the prospect of him being traded from Los Angeles by turning to what looks like a form of cocaine. But did Spencer use drugs, specifically cocaine, while in the NBA? 

Yes. 

As quoted in a New York Daily News (opens in new tab) article, Haywood spoke of his time in Los Angeles saying, "While I’m there, the Devil came in. In the form of coke." 

Haywood would go on to say in that same interview, "The Devil got in there, man, and it was controlling me completely and I wasn’t myself. Those players never got a chance to see who Spencer Haywood is and was." Perhaps the most disheartening part of this particular interview is he basically said his drug use was a pretty open fact, and yet, he didn’t receive an intervention or even interference from someone questioning him on his choices. 

Fortunately, Haywood was able to regain control of his life and kick the cocaine habit. You can hear him briefly detail his past with the illegal substance below. Additionally, you can read more about his experiences in his biography, Spencer Haywood: The Rise, the Fall (opens in new tab)

Did Magic Johnson have a baby with Rhonda?  

Quincy Isaiah in Lakers' uniform as Magic Johnson in Winning Time

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

In episode 7 of Winning Time, it became clear that Johnson messed around with Rhonda (Chelsea M. Davis), a good friend of Cookie Kelly. Then in episode 8, Kelly tells Johnson she knows of his betrayal and informs him Ronda is pregnant. Did this really happen though? Did Johnson sleep with Kelly’s friend and get the friend pregnant?

This seems to be fiction. 

We couldn’t find any information verifying this story to be true. The character of Rhonda appears to be a device used by show writers to illustrate that Johnson had a very healthy appetite for sex. Johnson himself admitted to having such an appetite and confessed to having unprotected sex in an issue of Sports Illustrated as reported in The Washington Post (opens in new tab)

As a matter of public record, Johnson has three children. He shares EJ and Elisa Johnson with his now-wife Cookie Johnson and Andre Johnson from a previous relationship with Melissa Mitchell. 

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

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.