'They Call Me Magic': Was Earvin Johnson a playboy as shown in HBO's 'Winning Time'?

His four-episode documentary provides a holistic look into his life and career showing him in a different light.


                            'They Call Me Magic': Was Earvin Johnson a playboy as shown in HBO's 'Winning Time'?
Earlitha 'Cookie' Kelly (L) and Earvin 'Magic' Johnson (Michael Buckner/Getty Images )
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Apple TV+'s 'They Call Me Magic' is somewhat of a redemption for Earvin 'Magic' Johnson with 'Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty'. The former Los Angeles Lakers star was portrayed as a talented athlete on the court and a smooth-talking playboy with a million-dollar smile off it. It wasn't surprising that he was irked at the exaggerated portrayal in the HBO series.

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His four-episode documentary provides a holistic look into his life and career showing him in a different light. It puts out his playboy persona rather mildly and instead focuses on what could be rightfully called a rollercoaster relationship with his wife Cookie. True that this was a man who in his own words loved to "have fun", but his flings take a backseat as 'They Call Me Magic' sheds light on his tumultuous, yet strong-bonded journey with her.

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Episodes 1 and 2 shed light on their pre-marriage days. Magic recounts how they met at a club in their freshman year. Surprisingly, he didn't ask her for a dance but got straight to the point by asking for her phone number. “I told him I’m not giving you my number because you’re not even going to remember me in a month, the wife of the NBA star told Mocha Man Style in an exclusive. He said, ‘Yes, I will.’ I gave him the number and literally the day I set foot back on campus he called me.”

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What followed was a start-stop and restart relationship between the two. Their engagement was called off after Magic was unsure of what to do, while the second time, Cookie put her foot down and said they'd stay engaged even if the marriage was delayed. The docu also sees him confess about his first child, Andre, who he had with his girlfriend Melissa Mitchell in 1981. It wasn't until 1991 that they got married.

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"I knew him well enough to know that it wasn't that he didn't love me," she said in the documentary. In many ways, the loss to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1991 NBA finals was a way for the two to understand each other better by spending more time. "It was a long-distance relationship for a long time," she explained.

There was also the brief split after the infamous 1991 pool party (an image of which resurfaced last month). To digress a bit, the image that saw Magic pose with 12 women saw some venomous responses from fans. The documentary also sees Magic breakdown about the tough times he put Cookie through but was absolutely firm in his view that she was the woman he always loved and wanted to be with. His HIV diagnosis and the impact it had on the two of them gets some ample screentime.

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Coming back to the all-important question: Was Magic a playboy? By his own admission that he had "fun", Magic can be called as a playboy. Charming, suave and oozing with chutzpah, but one cannot and shouldn't forget his immense contribution on the hardwood and what he did when he was diagnosed with HIV. Surely, the HBO drama does dramatize things, but hey, it's TV and the show pretty much shows some legendary personalities in a light we haven't imagined, it's not a surprise that it essayed Magic the way it did.

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'They Call Me Magic' releases April 22 on Apple TV+