‘Winning Time’ Jack McKinney Bicycle Crash True Story

Finally. After the writers’ room of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty gave us the dubious (and very likely invented) inclusions of Tasty Ice, Zastro, and locker room beef, Episode Five gave us a few high-stakes moments, straight from the history books, worth investigating.

The new installment of Winning Time, which debuted Sunday night on HBO, brilliantly depicted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s crisis of faith. (You can read what Solomon Hughes, the actor who plays Abdul-Jabbar, had to say about the episode here.) And at the end of this week’s dramatics? We witness a (literal) crossroads moment in the history of Showtime. In the final scene, Lakers head coach Jack McKinney is biking his way over to the local tennis court, to meet up with his assistant, Paul Westhead. As he’s merrily wheeling along, a car nearly rams into him. McKinney whizzes right by. Just when you think the offensive mastermind averted crisis, he stumbles on the street, falls off the bike, and hits the pavement. The credits roll.

Now, the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers nearly dying via bicycle accident, really, is the moment you’d think Winning Time would’ve fictionalized for added drama, but this moment is pretty damn close to reality.

For those of you who aren’t versed in the great history of Showtime—and are following along with Winning Time week to week, enjoying the surprises along the way—we’ll keep this relatively short, so as not to spoil next week’s episode. On November 8, 1979, McKinney was biking to meet Westhead when, as he neared a stop sign, the gears on his bicycle locked. His head hit the concrete, which gave him a concussion and a three-day-long coma. Unfortunately, when McKinney died in 2018 at the age of 83, his daughter said that his passing was due to complications from the brain injury.

At the time, the Lakers were only 13 games into the season. The repercussions from the accident almost certainly had an impact on the next few years of Showtime. (At least.) We’ll keep this story updated as Winning Time starts to reveal the future of the relationship between McKinney, Westhead, and Pat Riley going forward.

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