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Fact vs Fiction: Winning Time season 1 episode 9 — did Spencer Haywood try to kill the Lakers?

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

Hard to believe there's only one episode left of Winning Time season 1. Given things have really heated up on the series, one can only imagine what viewers are in store for come the finale next week. However, before we jump too far ahead, let’s talk about episode 9. 

A lot of the episode was dedicated to the souring relationship between Spencer Haywood and the Lakers. What was shown almost left us speechless. Did the players really vote to suspend Haywood and have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar deliver the bad news? Perhaps more importantly, did Haywood in retaliation decide to take a hit out on the entire team? These are the kind of questions we were left asking after this latest installment of the show. 

Here’s what we’ve determined was fact and fiction for Winning Time episode 9.

Did the Lakers vote to suspend Spencer Haywood before the NBA finals? 

Solomon Hughes, DeVaughn Nixon and Jimel Atkins as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Norman Nixon and Jamaal Wilkes sitting in Lakers locker room

Solomon Hughes, DeVaughn Nixon and Jimel Atkins in Winning Time (Image credit: Warrick Page/HBO)

In episode 8 of Winning Time, Spencer Haywood (Wood Harris) turned to drugs after hearing about rumors he could be traded. Well, in this latest episode his drug use has increased to the point his teammates can see he has a problem. Although he was warned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes) to go cold turkey to kick the habit, Haywood's attraction to illegal substances at that time was just too strong. Before the NBA finals, Haywood’s issue becomes a team issue once they see him in a dire condition in the hallway. 

The Lakers have a team meeting without Haywood. Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) tells the players to make the decision on whether to keep Haywood for the finals or immediately cut him from the team. After a vote, Abdul-Jabbar informs his friend he would not be playing with the Lakers when they faced the 76ers. Did this really happen as was shown? 

No. 

In real life, Haywood was suspended during the Lakers' 1980 playoff run, but that didn’t happen until after game 3 of the NBA Finals and the decision was made by Westhead. According to the Los Angeles Times, Westhead opted to suspend Haywood indefinitely after multiple disruptions and the fact he fell asleep during a workout with the team. Haywood himself wrote in a People Magazine article the final straw for Westhead was when he got into a shouting match with his teammates Jim Chones and Brad Holland immediately after game 3. 

Also, despite Winning Time showing Abdul-Jabbar delivering the bad news of the suspension to Haywood, it was actually the Lakers’ front office that gave him the official word. According to the New York Daily News, it was Westhead, Jerry Buss and Jerry West who met with Haywood and told him he would not be playing for the rest of the season.  

Did Spencer Haywood try to kill the Lakers? 

Wood Harris as Spencer Haywood in Winning Time

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

In the final minutes of episode 9, following Haywood being cut from the team, he goes to the home of a shady man in a bandana and asks that the man essentially kill the Lakers. That certainly was a dramatic way to end the episode, but was it a factual one? 

This was a little bit of fact and fiction.  

Let’s start with the overarching question, did Haywood order a hit after he was suspended? Yes. Again referencing the People Magazine article that he penned, Haywood wrote, "I left the Forum and drove off in my Rolls that night thinking one thought — that Westhead must die." In even more shocking detail, the former Laker went on to say: 

"In the heat of anger and the daze of coke, I phoned an old friend of mine in Detroit, a guy named Gregory, a genuine certified gangster. I said, 'C'mon out here, buddy. I got someone I want you to take care of.' He said, 'No problem, Wood. Love to do that for you.' The next day Greg and his partner flew to LA, ready to go to work. We sat down and figured it out. Westhead lived in Palos Verdes, and we got his street address. We would sabotage his car, mess with his brake lining.”

So the fiction part of the Winning Time narrative, is Haywood didn’t take a hit out on the entire Lakers organization. Additionally, it doesn’t appear he drove to some random shady character at night to design the drug-induced plan. 

It might be a spoiler for the season finale, but Haywood didn't go through with the plan.

Did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar create the skyhook?  

Solomon Hughes as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar doing a jump hook in Winning Time

Solomon Hughes in Winning Time (Image credit: Warrick Page/HBO)

Once Haywood is suspended in the episode, Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) takes to the court to practice his skyhook. However, when Abdul-Jabbar walks into the gym and spots Johnson, he’s not impressed with the rookie trying out his signature move. Johnson even says, "I’ve been practicing your skyhook," as if Abdul-Jabbar invented the move. But did he? 

No, he did not. 

Despite his mastery of it, the skyhook was not something Abdul-Jabbar created. There were two people that were known to do the maneuver before him.  According to ESPN, George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers and Cliff Hagan of the St. Louis Hawks were both using the move before it even had the name skyhook. 

To Abdul-Jabbar’s credit, the move wasn’t called a skyhook until announcer Eddie Doucette saw the center do it while a member of the Milwaukee Bucks.  

Did Jerry Buss try to prevent Jeanie Buss from working at the Forum full-time?  

Hadley Robinson as Jeanie Buss in Winning Time

Hadley Robinson in Winning Time (Image credit: Warrick Page/HBO)

Throughout Winning Time, Jeanie Buss (Hadley Robinson) has been balancing being a college student at USC and her "intern-like" duties at The Forum, as well as her familial duties taking care of Jessie Buss (Sally Field). Still, it’s clear she’s doing great work with Claire Rothman (Gabby Hoffmann). 

In this episode, Rothman tells Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) she wants to hire his daughter as a full-time marketing associate. Although Jeanie wants the job, her dad tells Rothman to find someone else. Did Jeanie really work at The Forum while going to USC? Did her father try to prevent her from being more involved in the family business at that time? 

This is fiction.

While Jeanie would eventually have a prominent position at The Forum, according to Sports Illustrated, at age 19 she was a student at USC and the general manager of the Strings, a professional team belonging to the Team Tennis League (Jerry owned the franchise). 

After she graduated from college with honors, the Beverly Hills Courier states Jeanie went on to lead the Los Angeles Blades roller hockey team and was selected as "Executive of the Year" for her role. 

Eventually, Jerry named Jeanie the president of the Forum. It appears Jerry never attempted to prevent his daughter from thriving in business. It would actually seem he saw her as quite the asset given he gave her leadership roles at a number of his companies. 

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.