HBO’s Winning Time begins with a disclaimer, which warns audiences that the show will dramatize “certain facts and events.” But that isn’t cutting it for many of the show’s real-life subjects. With two episodes left of the first season, a trio of high-profile Winning Time critics have emerged in former Los Angeles Lakers players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, as well as former head coach and general manager Jerry West.
Now, HBO has decided to go on the defensive.
On Tuesday, the network provided a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, which reads: “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.”
The HBO series, created by Max Borenstein and Jim Hecht and produced by Adam McKay, chronicles the rise of the Los Angeles Lakers in their “Showtime” era of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Inspired by Jeff Pearlman’s book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s, the series has drawn ire from many of its actual figures.
Last week, Abdul-Jabbar (played by Solomon Hughes) dedicated a Substack post to dismantling the show as “deliberately dishonest” and “drearily dull.” Prior to that, Johnson (played by Quincy Isaiah) criticized the project, telling Variety, “First of all, you can’t do a story about the Lakers without the Lakers.” (Neither he nor Abdul-Jabbar are involved in Winning Time). Showtime’s author refuted Johnson’s remark, tweeting, “This irks the fuck out of me. For Showtime, I took e-v-e-r-y possible avenue when it came to interviewing @MagicJohnson, and was repeatedly turned down. So, hey. Consider the source.”
Taking a more aggressive approach, last Tuesday, West penned a letter to Warner Bros. Discovery, HBO, and Winning Time producers McKay and Kevin Messick via his attorney, Skip Miller, which demanded a retraction of his “false and defamatory portrayal.” Played by Jason Clarke in the series, the letter claims that “the Jerry West in Winning Time bears no resemblance to the real man” and that the show has “reduced the legacy of an 83-year-old legend and role model to that of a vulgar and unprofessional bully—the polar opposite of the real man.” (At the time, McKay, Messick, HBO, and Warner Bros. Discovery did not immediately respond to Vanity Fair’s request for comment.)
West has now allegedly threatened to escalate his legal action “all the way to the Supreme Court,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Despite this public booing, Winning Time has already been renewed for a second season at HBO.
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