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“Winning Time”: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West Blast HBO’s “Dishonest” Series

HBO’s Winning Time is a swaggering and sensational dramatization of an exciting and glamorous moment in basketball history. But some viewers don’t like the acclaimed TV show: Former LA Lakers coach Jerry West demanded a retraction from HBO over how he’s portrayed on the show, while former star player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar calls the show “deliberately dishonest” and “terribly boring.”

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty tells the story of the LA Lakers team in the late 1970s and 1980s when they found a world-class formula with Magic Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar putting fire in court. The 10-episode show stars John C. Reilly as new owner Jerry Buss, described as the catalyst for this triumphant era. Airing until May 8 on HBO and streaming on HBO Maxthe series has already been renewed for a second season.

Jason Clarke plays coach Jerry West, a former Lakers player whose figure can still be seen in the iconic NBA logo. In the series, West is portrayed as a volatile (and slightly buffoonish) character at odds with Buss. In a whimsical moment from the final episode, the series depicts West mocking a trophy that comes to life. But West’s attorney disputes that characterization in a letter to HBO, which says the show has “caused great distress to Jerry and his family” and demands an apology and retraction from HBO.

According to the letter, Winning Time “took a happy, super-successful Lakers era and turned it into a pulpy soap opera.” The letter, reported earlier by Variety, says West had a smooth relationship with Buss.

Left to right: Jason Clarke as Jerry West and John C. Reilly as Dr. Jerry Buss in a typically explosive scene from HBO’s Winning Time.

Warrick Page/HBO

Abdul-Jabbar also disparaged the show in his Substack newsletter, calling it a “Frankenstein’s monster” of gossip and fiction. “The problem with Winning Time,” he said, “isn’t so much that the filmmakers deliberately avoided facts as if it were an STD, but that they replaced solid facts by flimsy cardboard fictions that go no further and offer no revelation knowledge.”

Winning Time is based on the book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s by Jeff Pearlman. The author also weighed in, taking to Twitter to a long thread in which he points out that Abdul-Jabbar declined to be interviewed or involved in the book or TV series. Pearlman calls the show “an ode to the Lakers” and defends it as “a TV show. Entertainment. Not a documentary.”

HBO responded with a statement defending the show and, by extension, the concept of TV shows based on real stories. “HBO has a long history of producing compelling content drawn from true facts and events that are partly fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Winning Time is not a documentary and was not presented as such. However, the series and its portrayals are based on extensive factual research and reliable supply, and HBO steadfastly supports our talented creators and actors who have brought a dramatization of this epic chapter in basketball history to the screen.”


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