• The trade negotiations between Norm Nixon and David Thompson depicted in Winning Time were based on real-life considerations from Lakers General Manager Jerry West and Assistant Coach Pat Riley.
  • The trade talks never even reached a starting point for an official negotiation with Thompson’s team due to Paul Westhead, the Head Coach, vetoing the trade and asserting control over the team’s coaching style.
  • After leaving the Lakers, Nixon joined the Los Angeles Clippers where he became one of their most valuable scorers and even earned a spot in the NBA All-Star team before injuries cut his career short.

HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of The Lakers Dynasty highlights some of the behind-the-scenes trade negotiations involving star point guard Norm Nixon. The 1980-81 Los Angeles Lakers went from an NBA championship in their previous season to a divided locker room and front office as depicted in the first two episodes of Winning Time season 2. A large part of the team’s disintegration had to do with potential trade rumors involving Nixon and another NBA superstar guard at the time, David Thompson, who was at the peak of his career during the 1980-81 season before falling out of the NBA shortly after due to issues with substance addiction and injury.

The Nixon-Thompson trade negotiations depicted in Winning Time season 2, episode 2 were based on real-life considerations from Lakers General Manager Jerry West and Assistant Coach Pat Riley. When bringing the idea to trade for Nixon in the middle of the 1980-81 NBA season upon the return of Magic Johnson from his knee injury which left him sidelined for 45 games, West had thought Head Coach Paul Westhead would be adamantly on board. This turned out not to be the case and ultimately the Nixon-Thompson trade talks never even reached a starting point for an official negation with Thompson’s team at the time, the Denver Nuggets.

RELATED: What Happened To David Thompson After Winning Time Season 2 – Did The Lakers Ever Trade For Him?

Why The Lakers Killed Winning Time’s Norm Nixon-David Thompson Trade In Real Life

Coach Paul Westhead describes the System in Winning Time season 2

The idea of trading Nixon for Thompson was based on actual NBA rumors circulating the Showtime Lakers in 1981. In Winning Time, Paul Westhead initially disliked the trade because he was concerned about adding another big-headed hotshot player like Magic Johnson to the mix of his team, which had shown increasing signs of falling out of sync with one another. Westhead officially vetoed the trade despite reluctantly agreeing to it once he realizes that he was gradually losing control of the team. This enabled Westhead to put his foot down and demand that he still be able to coach the Lakers the way he wanted according to his unusual half-court offensive system.

The truth about the botched Nixon-Thompson deal likely had more to do with the behind-the-scenes drama regarding Thompson than it had with the Lakers. Thompson was one of the most dominant offensive players of the late 1970s before a critical knee injury sidelined him for 36 games of the 1980 NBA season, the same year the Lakers won their unexpected NBA title as depicted in Winning Time season 1. Thompson’s personal substance abuse issues had run rampant during his 1980 injury and made a considerable difference to his game. The Lakers likely caught wind of it and decided to hang on to their prized asset in Nixon.

Jerry West’s Plan To Trade Away Norm Nixon Finally Happens Before The NBA’s 1983-84 Season

Pat Riley and Jerry West in Winning Time season 2

Nixon was eventually traded from the Lakers to the Los Angeles Clippers before the 1983-84 NBA season. Nixon, along with teammate Eddie Jordan, were traded under West’s command for Byron Scott and Swen Nater in what ultimately turned out to be a very unpopular move among Lakers fans. Nixon had helped the Lakers earn their second NBA Championship in two years by the end of the 1982 season, cementing him as an icon of the franchise for life. Nixon even led the Lakers in scoring during the 1982 NBA Finals, which made it seem as though he would stay with the team until the end of his career.

Despite immense fan support for Nixon, Jerry West himself has a personal gripe with him that was noticeable by other members of the Lakers organization. West had coached Nixon between 1976-79 before becoming the Lakers’ General Manager, so the two had some history before Magic Johnson entered the equation at the start of the 1979 season. West reportedly was not a fan of Nixon’s “pretty boy” demeanor and as a result, was explicitly harsher on him than on other players. West considered Nixon one of his favorite players despite hiring a personal investigator to look into Nixon’s alleged drug use, which is believed to be fabricated as part of West’s individual plot to push Nixon out of the Lakers’ organization (via The Sporting News).

What Happens To Norm Nixon After Leaving The Lakers

Norm Nixon comparison in Winning Time

West got what he wanted through his virtually abusive treatment of Nixon and sent the former star Laker to the Clippers in 1983. In Nixon’s first two seasons with his new team, he played in almost every single game and became one of the Clippers’ most valuable scorers, averaging roughly 17 points per game. Nixon was even named an NBA All-Star in 1984-85 before injuries left him sidelined for essentially the rest of his NBA career.

Nixon played his last NBA game as a Clipper in 1989. Meanwhile, Byron Scott, who effectively took Nixon’s place on the Lakers, went on to win NBA titles with the team in 1985, 1987, and 1988, becoming a Lakers legend in his own right. The feud between Nixon and West is likely to rear its head at some point in Winning Time season 2.

Source: The Sporting News

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