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HBO’s ‘Winning Time’ Makes These 5 Lakers Figures Look the Worst

No one should ever make the mistake of thinking they know an athlete or celebrity based on what they see in public.

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HBO’s series on the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers, Winning Time, has been a highly entertaining account of the people and events that elevated one of the NBA’s most venerated franchises to championship glory. But it also depicts that path in an outrageous, over-the-top manner that has upset many of those who were involved or familiar with that era.

Virtually no one comes off looking good with how they’re portrayed in this series. Maybe Claire Rothman or Jeanie Buss. Others, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, aren’t shown in a positive light. Yet the dramatization isn’t necessarily objectionable either.

However, some of the figures in this story look rather bad throughout the course of Winning Time‘s story. (Maybe a separate column should be devoted to how the city of Boston and everyone involved with the Boston Celtics organization are portrayed. Wow.)

The following five characters (and real-life figures) likely wish the series had never been made and hope viewers consider that this is an exaggerated version of events. It’s possible some of that could change based on how the final two episodes of the series go. But… probably not.

Paul Westhead: Westhead was almost certain to be portrayed in a bad light in Winning Time just because of his place in Lakers history. It’s not certain what we’ll see in the series’ final two episodes. But in the season following the one being chronicled on the show, the Lakers lost in the playoffs and Johnson wanted to be traded if Westhead wasn’t fired.

But Jason Segel’s portrayal of Westhead as a gutless leader with no self-confidence who’s afraid to stand up for himself and deal with players is truly unflattering, hinting that the coach will ultimately be roadkill on the Lakers’ drive toward a championship dynasty.

Chick Hearn: How the Lakers’ legendary broadcaster is portrayed is one of the more surprising developments of the series. From afar, Hearn (played by Spencer Garrett) appeared to be a fun guy known for clever nicknames and turns of phrase. The person we see on Winning Time, however, makes racist and homophobic remarks, is extremely vain, takes locker-room teasing to outright abuse, and regularly drinks booze out of a mug during games.

He’s also a major control freak at the broadcast table. Hearn holding up his fist to tell his cohort to stop talking feels more painful and demeaning when Westhead says “Chick’s fist” and thrusts his own to remind Pat Riley how much worse his working life could be.

Jerry Buss: The Lakers owner’s grand ambition is the driving force behind the era depicted in Winning Time, the many NBA championships that followed, and his franchise’s status as one of the popular brands in professional sports. We definitely see that in John C. Reilly’s portrayal of Buss. The man wants to win. He has to win, or his significant financial risk will send him deep into bankruptcy.

But his womanizing has cost him nearly everything in his personal life, notably the relationship with his daughter Jeanie. Maybe the most uncomfortable example of this occurs near the end of Episode 8, “California Dreaming,” when Buss takes advantage of the sympathy and kindness shown by the woman he’s hired to take care of his dying mother and seduces her. Just when you think Buss might have changed, he shows he hasn’t.

Magic Johnson: Before Winning Time began airing on HBO, Johnson made it clear that he wasn’t a fan of the series. His opinion could hardly be viewed as objective and the idea that a story about the Lakers without the involvement of the Lakers is warped logic. But whether Magic knew what the show would portray or not, watching the series makes it apparent why he denounced the entire effort.

The series makes a point of demonstrating that dropping a 20-year-old basketball sensation and savior of a franchise into a den of temptation would inevitably lead to trouble. The story begins by showing us the eventual results of Johnson’s promiscuous ways. But the way Johnson treats the many women in his life and those who can help him make money and become a celebrity is hardly flattering. His redeeming quality will apparently be a ruthless desire to win, the valuable advice Jerry West shares at the end of Episode 8.

Jerry West: It shouldn’t be a surprise that the legendary Lakers star, coach, and general manager demanded a retraction and apology from HBO and producer Adam McKay for how he’s portrayed in Winning Time.

No one should ever make the mistake of thinking they know an athlete or celebrity based on what they see in public. (Or dramatized on a TV series.) Yet the show depicting West as a depressive incapable of enjoying winning, traumatized by losing, and prone to fits of rage and isolation when he doesn’t get his way was shocking. Understandably, several who know West came to his defense after early episodes of the show aired.

But if there’s a theme throughout this series, it seems to be that nearly everyone involved in the story will eventually find their purpose in working toward the common goal of winning. West may have been plagued by self-doubt and lack of joy as a player and coach, but realizes his talent as a judge of talent and character. At least that appears to be where his story arc is going.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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