While Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty has proven to be a success for HBO (so much so that the series was renewed for a second season), not everyone is happy about the stories being told on the Adam McKay produced series. Most notably, the real-life legends who were a part of the Showtime Lakers era have harsh words for the series.
Perhaps one of the more visceral responses to Winning Time has come from former Lakers coach Jerry West. West had his legal team reach out to HBO and to the show producer Adam McKay per a letter obtained by ESPN (opens in new tab), to demand a retraction for his portrayal on the series.
West’s attorney Skip Miller states, "The portrayal of NBA icon and L.A. Lakers legend Jerry West in Winning Time is fiction pretending to be fact — a deliberately false characterization that has caused great distress to Jerry and his family."
The legal team representing the NBA great went on to say:
"Jerry West was an integral part of the Lakers and NBA's success. It is a travesty that HBO has knowingly demeaned him for shock value and the pursuit of ratings. As an act of common decency, HBO and the producers owe Jerry a public apology and at the very least should retract their baseless and defamatory portrayal of him."
Outside of West’s family and legal team, the former coach has also gained some support on the matter from former Laker team executives. Claire Rothman, Mitch Kupchak, Charlene Kenney and Bob Steiner all worked with West for the Lakers organization and were cited in the ESPN article as never seeing him drink alcohol or commit acts of rage in the office. Former Lakers, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, are also rallying behind West. Abdul-Jabbar specifically mentions this on his blog (opens in new tab):
"It’s a shame the way they treat Jerry West, who has openly discussed his struggle with mental health, especially depression. Instead of exploring his issues with compassion as a way to better understand the man, they turn him into a Wile E. Coyote cartoon to be laughed at. He never broke golf clubs, he didn’t throw his trophy through the window. Sure, those actions make dramatic moments, but they reek of facile exploitation of the man rather than exploration of character."
In his same blog post, Abdul-Jabbar pans Winning Time for committing "the sin of being boring." While he professes to normally being a fan of McKay’s work, he notes that with the "poor quality" of Don’t Look Up and the "lazy writing" of Winning Time he questions if that’s still the case.
Not only does the greatest center in NBA history have a problem with the writing as a whole, but he also doesn’t like the show "deliberately" avoiding facts and opting instead for "flimsy cardboard fiction." Furthermore, he takes exception with the one-dimensional portrayals of himself and the people he knows well, claiming the show inappropriately reduces Jerry Buss to an "egomaniac entrepreneur," Jerry West to a "crazed coach," Magic Johnson to a "sexual simpleton" and even himself to a "pompous prick." (Ouch.)
Magic Johnson, arguably the biggest star of the Showtime Lakers, has not been as vocal about Winning Time. In a recent interview with ET (opens in new tab), he simply mentions, "It's hard. I won’t watch it because it’s hard to duplicate… You can’t duplicate Showtime."
With mounting criticism from former Lakers, some in the cast of Winning Time have offered their takes. When TMZ recently caught up with Quincy Isaiah, who plays Johnson in the series, he made it clear he has nothing but love for the Showtime legends and emphasizes there is "no malice" behind the actors’ portrayals.
In a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter (opens in new tab), HBO stated the following in response to Jerry West’s criticism:
“HBO has a long history of producing compelling content drawn from actual facts and events that are fictionalized in part for dramatic purposes. Winning Time is not a documentary and has not been presented as such. However, the series and its depictions are based on extensive factual research and reliable sourcing, and HBO stands resolutely behind our talented creators and cast who have brought a dramatization of this epic chapter in basketball history to the screen.”
It should also be noted that according to The Hollywood Reporter, Winning Time producer Adam McKay and the show’s writers have taken several opportunities to make it known that they conducted extensive research to create the series. This includes regularly relying on Jeff Pearlman’s Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s (opens in new tab) and the autobiographies and biographies of several of the central players in the series. Among the autobiographies used was West’s West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life (opens in new tab).
You can watch Winning Time on HBO or HBO Max.
Terrell Smith has a diverse writing background having penned material for a wide array of clients including the federal government and Bravo television personalities. When he’s not writing as Terrell, he’s writing under his pseudonym Tavion Scott, creating scripts for his audio drama podcasts. Terrell is a huge fan of great storytelling when it comes to television and film. Some of his favorite shows include The Crown, WandaVision, Abbot Elementary and Godfather of Harlem. And a fun fact is he's completely dialed into the TLC 90 Day Fiancé universe.
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