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After HBO’s Winning Time Is Criticized By Magic Johnson And More, John C. Reilly Recalls Sweet Encounter With Lakers Owner Jeanie Buss

This past weekend, HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty finished up its lauded and criticized first-season run. Many fans and critics have praised the sports series, though Laker alums like Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have spoken out against it. Amid the critiques though, it would seem that at least one of the show’s stars had a pleasant encounter with one of the NBA franchise’s bigwigs. John C. Reilly, who plays late team owner Jerry Buss, apparently had a lovely exchange with the man’s daughter – current controlling owner Jeanie Buss. 

A lot has been said about the portrayals in Winning Time, particularly those of Magic Johnson and Jerry West. John C. Reilly portrays Jerry Buss as a comical and business-minded man, who’s prone to fly by the seat of his pants when it comes to making big decisions. Season 1 also touched on his playboy tendencies, which were widely covered by the media during his team’s Showtime era of the ‘80s. When Jeanie Buss approached Reilly at a Laker game, she didn’t drop thoughts on his performance as her father, though. In fact, she actually heaped praise on one of the actor’s other notable works:

I went to a Lakers game and was in the lounge waiting for the game to start, and she came up to me and said, ‘Hi, I’m Jeanie Buss.’ I was like, Whoa. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be thrown out of the building or what. She said, ‘Listen, the team’s not participating in the show, so I’m not here to say anything good or bad about it. But I wanted to tell you something personal: My dad knew who you were. He loved musicals, and he saw you in Chicago and really loved your performance as Mister Cellophane. He said, ‘See that actor? That’s someone that can make you laugh and make you cry. That’s the mark of a great actor.’

So as it turns out, the late, great businessman, scientist and philanthropist was more than aware of the star’s abilities as an actor. Talk about a full-circle moment. If you ask me, his assessment was correct, as the Aviator alum has proven that he can hold his own in comedies like Guardians of the Galaxy and in dramas like The Sisters Brothers. I guess the age-old adage is true: game recognizes game.

Jeanie Buss may have remained mum on Winning Time, but her colleagues haven’t held back while sharing their own feelings. Magic Johnson asserted that he would not be tuning in, as he didn’t believe the series could accurately replicate Showtime. His former teammate, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, shared his thoughts, saying that the show presents “crude stick-figure representations” of the people involved in the actual events. And Jerry West was so displeased with the show’s depiction of himself that he got lawyers involved in his complaint. In the same interview with Vulture, John C. Reilly offered his take on the reactions:

The overall plot is based on historical fact, but we do fill in a lot of blanks. I knew it would be difficult for the people involved in this story to see their lives depicted in a semi-fictional way. But that doesn’t mean this story shouldn’t be told. The truth is these were crazy times. There was anger and betrayal, and the shit was hitting the fan. I respect everyone’s right to their own story, but I don’t think that precludes others from telling public stories. And this is a public story. People have said, ‘How can you tell the story of the Lakers without the Lakers themselves?’ And my answer to that is, ‘How could you tell it with them?’

Magic Johnson actor Quincy Isaiah has also responded to the backlash, saying that he can “understand where they coming from because it's a story about their life.” He went on to argue that the show is merely a “dramatization,” though, and also sent some love to Johnson. In HBO’s own rebuttal, following Jerry West’s complaint, the network acknowledged that some parts of the series are “fictionalized” but that “its depictions are based on extensive factual research and reliable sourcing.”

Work on a second season of Winning Time is already in full swing and, when it eventually sees the light of day, it’s fair to assume that other Laker alums may choose to chime in. But before any of that potentially happens, let’s appreciate the sweet conversation that John C. Reilly and Jeanie Buss had amid the current wave of backlash. 

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty is now available to stream in its entirety with an HBO Max subscription.

Erik Swann
Erik Swann

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.