HBO’s Winning Time prides itself on embodying the flashiness of the Showtime era, even taking some creative liberties in order to create the most over-the-top version of the Los Angeles Lakers. While Winning Time has generally received positive reviews from critics, the same cannot be said for the real-life counterparts of the HBO series. Several of the athletes portrayed have stated they have zero interest in the show or have not been included in the creative process. Below are some of the basketball stars depicted in Winning Time who didn’t think the show was a slam dunk.
Jerry West, portrayed by Jason Clarke, sent a letter from his legal team to HBO and producer Adam McKay demanding a “retraction and an apology,” according to ESPN. The letter claims that “Winning Time falsely and cruelly portrays Mr. West as an out-of-control, intoxicated rage-aholic,” and “bears no resemblance to the real man.” It also asks for a retraction, meaning that they want HBO and McKay to say West’s character in the show is a false image. West’s attorney, Skip Miller, also stated, “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.” They also state that because the show is claiming to be an adaption of Jeff Pearlman’s book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s, and because the dramatized scenes with West didn’t appear in the book, this is not a faithful adaption. Lakers players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Cooper, and Jamaal Wilkes and Showtime front office staff like Claire Rothman, Charlene Kenney, Bob Steiner, and Mitch Kupchak all included statements in the letter that denied West’s behavior in the show was accurate to real life.
In response to West’s legal claims against HBO, The Hollywood Reporter shared a statement from the network, who stand by Winning Time in all of its fourth-wall breaking glory. While the statement did not mention West by name, it hints at West’s comments on the series. HBO stated they have a “long history” of creating dramatized fictional content from “actual facts and events.” They claim that Winning Time has “not been presented” as a “documentary” and the development of the series is based on “extensive factual research and reliable sourcing.” HBO also stands by the creative decisions of their cast and creators. West seemingly reacted to the response when he spoke with former Los Angeles Times sports editor Bill Dwyre in an interview, hinting that he was serious about legal action against HBO. “The series made [the Lakers] all look like cartoon characters,” West explained to Dwyre. “They belittled something good. If I have to, I will take this all the way to the Supreme Court.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, played by Solomon Hughes, expressed in his Substack blog post that he has “no real interest in watching the show.” He stated that his distaste for it isn’t based on inaccurate portrayals but the “shallowness and lazy writing.” He criticizes the characterizations and plot, citing that the show’s humor falls “flat.” “Yeah, there’s an amazing, compelling, culturally insightful story in there. Winning Time just ain’t that story,” concludes Abdul-Jabbar.
Magic Johnson, portrayed by Quincy Isaiah, also shared that he isn’t interested in the HBO series. In an interview with Variety, Johnson said, “First of all, you can’t do a story about the Lakers without the Lakers. The real Lakers. You gotta have the guys. There’s no way to duplicate Showtime. I don’t care who you get.” He also claims that the show did not reach out to him or his teammates for participation in the series.
Lakers front-office legend Claire Rothman, played by Gaby Hoffmann, shared that she declined to be involved because Jeanie did not approve of the show. “I did read the first episode that Jeanie sent me, and I didn’t like the way it presented Jerry, and I didn’t like the way it presented me,” said Rothman in an interview with Goldstein and Gasol’s Pablo Goldstein. “The thing that stuck out was that it said when I went to meet Jerry, I unbuttoned my blouse by three buttons. Now, that’s bullshit. I had a long-term association as an arena manager. So I wouldn’t have cooperated in any case.”
This post has been updated throughout.