When you think of the Los Angeles Lakers, the names that come to mind are primarily men — Magic Johnson, Jerry Buss, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul Jabaar. HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of The Lakers only has two episodes out, but it’s introduced many of us to the woman who kept the Lakers’ boys club afloat: Claire Rothman. Played deftly by Primetime Emmy Award-nominated actress Gaby Hoffmann, Rothman has already had to stick her finger in her boss’s steak to check if it was cooked correctly, asked to undo buttons in her shirt to distract Lakers’ prospective owner Jerry Buss from looking at the Forum’s poor attendance numbers, and curse out Buss’s daughter for letting people take the accounting books out of her office on Winning Time.
But, the show has yet to fully touch on how Rothman set in motion the formation of the Showtime Lakers of the ’80s and kept them in business. Find out just how important she was to the most important dynasty in NBA history.
What did Claire Rothman do for the Lakers?
She was hired by former Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke in 1975 and quickly rose to become the general manager and President of The Forum arena where the Lakers played. Without her, the Showtime Lakers of the ’80s would’ve likely never existed in more ways than one. In winter of 1975, not long after being hired by Cooke, Rothman took the initiative to contact Jerry Buss about having his tennis franchise, the Los Angeles Strings, play at The Forum. After meeting with Buss, she helped introduce him to Cooke, and the rest is Lakers history.
She kept the Lakers in existence by keeping the lights on at The Forum. Outside of scheduling home games for the Lakers and Kings, she was responsible for keeping ticket sales flowing at the Forum even when there were no sports at the arena. If entertainment was happening at The Forum, Rothman was the person making it happen. She booked generational talents such as Barry Manilow, Duran Duran, and Prince, with the latter performing six sold-out shows at The Forum for his seminal Purple Rain Tour in February 1985, generating an estimated $276,000 per concert to save $1,650. Without those bookings, the Lakers may not have had a place to make the history that helped more than double the team’s valuation from when Jerry Buss purchased it in 1979 to the $282 million price tag it sported in 1999, the last year the Lakers played at The Forum.
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Was Claire Rothman like her depiction on Winning Time?
Hoffmann plays Rothman with stoic pragmatism and a total supply of F-bombs ready to be launched at any moment. The greying hair and conservative business attire Hoffmann sports around the Lakers’ offices in Winning Time are nearly identical to Rothman’s real-life dress code during the ’80s. Hoffmann’s expletive outbursts she hilariously introduces to the character aren’t far off from Rothman’s typical business lingo. While she may not have explained being forced to be whatever woman her male-dominated workspace requires with stories of unwanted penis exposure as she did in the series premiere, Rothman did catch Buss by surprise during their 1975 phone call when she described The Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, where Buss’s Stringers played, as a “shit hole.”
Rothman was a stickler for balancing the budget, whether on Winning Time or in real life. The woman who freaked out about her accounting books being taken from her office on Winning Time is the same woman who worked with the Inglewood Police Department to reduce the security personnel at Prince’s 1975 shows at The Forum from 30 to 15 to save a minuscule $1,650. However, in real life, Rothman wasn’t always budget-conscious. By 1985, she became more of a dreamer like her boss Buss when explaining why certain intangibles were more important than money.
“The more things you have in a building, the more you create a charisma, you make a place where things are happening. Then the fact that it also costs more money is immaterial,” Rothman said in a Los Angeles Times profile.
Where is Claire Rothman now?
Rothman stopped working at The Forum in 1995, and retired in 1999. Now 93, she lives in Las Vegas with her 91-year-old husband Edwin Hill—they’ve been together for 38 years. She didn’t consult on HBO’s Winning Time, but was able to view an early script of the season’s first episode, and did not approve of the show’s portrayal of herself and Jerry Buss.
We’ll definitely learn more about Rothman as the 10-episode season continues until May 10.
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