Mental Floss

'Winning Time': Did Kobe Bryant Really Attend the Lakers's 1979 Opening Game?

Jake Rossen
Kobe Bryant got a cameo on 'Winning Time' despite the show taking place in 1979, long before he stepped on the court.
Kobe Bryant got a cameo on 'Winning Time' despite the show taking place in 1979, long before he stepped on the court. / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

HBO has long been home to sports programming, both real (boxing) and fictional (Ballers). Their latest athletic effort, Winning Time, takes a deep dive into the Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s, with one particular episode drawing attention for depicting a young Kobe Bryant in attendance for a 1979 game.

But did a baby Bryant really sit in the stands for that game, or was it some creative license on the part of the show?

In the episode, “Pieces of a Man,” Earvin “Magic” Johnson makes his NBA debut with the Lakers opposite the San Diego Clippers. In the show, a graphic onscreen cuts to a shot of a mother holding a baby, with the legend “Kobe ‘Bean’ Bryant” appearing underneath.

It’s not confirmed Bryant was at the game, but it’s plausible. Here’s why: Bryant’s father, Joe Bryant, was also an NBA player who was part of the Clippers and played in the real game depicted on the show. That would have opened the door for Bryant’s mother, Pam, to attend with their young son: Bryant was born August 23, 1978, making him roughly a year old at the time.

While not factually confirmed, it was the show’s way of honoring Bryant, who became the focal point of the Lakers in the 21st century. Bryant died in January 2020 following a helicopter crash along with eight other passengers.

Winning Time has been a critical hit for HBO, though it’s not been without controversy. Onetime Lakers coach and general manager Jerry West recently criticized the series for its depiction of him. (West is played by Jason Clarke.) According to the Los Angeles Times, West, who was also used as the basis for the NBA logo, has demanded both a retraction and apology from HBO; the channel responded that the series is “not a documentary.” That’s also why Bryant’s cameo may not be wholly accurate, but nonetheless a treat for the team’s fans.