• Larry Bird dropped out of Indiana University in 1974 and became a trash collector in his hometown before joining the Indiana State basketball team.
  • Magic Johnson signed a groundbreaking $25 million contract extension in 1981, demonstrating his loyalty to the Lakers and owner Jerry Buss.
  • Larry Bird’s father, Joe Bird, died by suicide in 1975, leaving a lasting impact on Bird and his family, who faced financial difficulties before Bird became the highest-paid NBA rookie by joining the Boston Celtics.

HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty takes a deep dive into the backstory of Magic Johnson’s greatest NBA rival Larry Bird with the third episode of its second season. After watching Bird’s Boston Celtics take home the NBA Championship in 1981, only one year after Magic and the Showtime Lakers won it in 1980, Magic takes time during the off-season to construct a new contract extension and smooth things over with his teammates, Norm Nixon. Meanwhile, a divided Lakers front office navigates how to move forward with a fighting chance at another NBA Championship ahead of its 1981-82 season.

The Lakers’ behind-the-scenes struggles depicted in Winning Time season 2, episode 2 have seemingly come to an end with the acquisition of Mitch Kupchak which is discussed extensively in Winning Time season 2, episode 3 titled “The Second Coming.” The episode title refers to Larry Bird who had been called “the basketball Jesus” by many Boston fans. Bird puts on a clinic in a series of flashback sequences that depict personal hardship and tragedy that eventually brought him to the Indiana State basketball court wearing his signature blue jeans. While Winning Time is mostly about the Lakers, season 2, episode 3 tips its cap to the team’s fiercest competitor.

RELATED: Winning Time Season 2 Soundtrack Guide – Every Song & When It Plays

Larry Bird Dropped Out Of Indiana University In 1974

Larry Bird in Winning Time season 2 epsiode 3

As depicted in Winning Time season 2, episode 3, a young Larry Bird truly dropped out of Indiana University after having trouble finding his footing in an environment outside his hometown. The real-life Larry Bird left college in 1974 and became a trash collector in his hometown of French Lick, Indiana before ultimately attending Indiana State University. According to Sports Illustrated, Bird loved being a garbage man and living a simple life among his friends. He took the opportunity while he was driving around his hometown to point out areas of improvement in the community and was very happy during that time of his life.

Magic Johnson Signed A $25 Million Contract Extension In 1981

Magic Johnson in Winning Time season 2 epsiode 3

Winning Time season 2, episode 3 also sees Magic Johnson signing a massive 25-year contract extension of $25 million with Jerry Buss of the Los Angeles Lakers. The real-life Magic actually signed that same exact deal in 1981, making it the longest NBA contract ever made. Compared to NBA salaries nowadays, that figure doesn’t seem to be all that significant but it was meant to demonstrate Magic’s lifelong commitment to Buss and the Lakers. The real-life Johnson, whose contract went into effect in 1984, eventually realized that he was being underpaid, with teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar making nearly $2 million per season, but was youthful and excited by the offer at the time.

Larry Bird’s Father Died By Suicide In 1975

Larry Bird sad scene in Winning time season 2 epiosde 3

Larry Bird’s father, Joe Bird, died by suicide in 1975 when Larry was nineteen years old. Joe was 48 at the time of his death. Larry had a close relationship with his father and the two often went fishing together. Joe Bird was a Korean War veteran. According to Grunge, it is believed that Joe’s time at war took an emotional and psychological toll on him. Joe was considered a heavy drinker and had difficulty finding and keeping an occupation, which put Bird’s family in financially difficult situations. Joe Bird and his wife Georgia, the mother of Larry and his five siblings, had recently divorced in real life before Joe’s death by suicide.

Jim Chones Wasn’t That Angry When He Was Traded To Washington

Jim Chones in Winning Time season 2, episode 3

One of the largest creative leaps taken in Winning Time season 2, episode 3 was the reaction of former Lakers forward Jim Chones when he found out he was being traded. According to the Washington Post, Chones and his wife Elores were ultimately excited about the move to Washington D.C. because it would bring their family closer to their hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. In the HBO series, Chones is depicted as having a rage-fueled explosive reaction to being traded for Mitch Kupchick, claiming he just bought a house in Los Angeles and asking what he was supposed to tell his wife. In reality, Chones was initially sad but not surprised by the trade, even stating that LA was too fast-paced for him and he preferred a Midwestern lifestyle.

RELATED: Winning Time Season 2: Do The Lakers Still Trade Away Norm Nixon? What Really Happens

Red Auerbach Made Larry Bird The Highest-Paid NBA Rookie In 1979

Red Auerbach in Winnging Time season 2, episode 3

Celtics President Red Auerbach did offer Larry Bird the highest-paying contract ever given to an NBA rookie at the time to convince him to join the Boston Celtics. Bird secured a deal that landed him an average of $650,000 per year over the course of five years, which equates to roughly $2.74 million today adjusting for inflation. According to Sports Illustrated, Auerbach did actually downplay the significance of Bird’s role on the team as a “cornerman” during the negotiating process. Bird had threatened to re-enter the NBA Draft in 1979 and play another year at Indiana State before he and the Celtics landed on the extremely lucrative deal.

Magic Johnson Encouraged The Lakers’ Trade For Mitch Kupchak, Not Paul Westhead

Magic Johnson talking to Jerry Buss in Winning Time season 2, episode 3

In Winning Time season 2 episode 3, Coach Paul Westhead appears to be the driving force behind the Lakers’ desire to trade for Mitch Kupchak. In reality, Magic Johnson had expressed interest in getting Kupchak on their team, a key detail that was left out of the HBO series. Kupchak would go on to play four seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers alongside Magic and would eventually become Magic’s front-office competition after their playing careers were over. In 2017, Magic took over the Lakers’ General Manager position from none other than Mitch Kupchak who had been in the role for decades.

Jeanie Buss Managed Martina Navratilova On The LA Strings

Jeanie Buss in Winning Time season 2, episode 3

In Winning Time season 2, Jeanie Buss takes on a number of new responsibilities as LA Strings General Manager. While her father was in charge of the Lakers, Jeanie managed a number of successful professional tennis players on the path to a 1981 league championship. One of those players was Martina Navratilova, who was known as a dominating force on the tennis court. Navratilova went on to play for two other TeamTennis champions in her career and the LA Strings won another TeamTennis Championship in 1990. The rise of Jeanie Buss is depicted in Winning Time season 2 before she became the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers after Jerry Buss passed away in 2013.

Source: Sports Illustrated, Grunge, Washington Post

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