After Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Speaks Out On Winning Time's Depiction Of Himself And Others, Some Colleagues Are Backing Him Up

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the Mercatus Center
(Image credit: Mercatus Center)

Before HBO dropped the first look at Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, it would’ve been fair to assume that there might be some backlash from those being portrayed. Though I’m not sure anyone could’ve predicted just how visceral the responses to the dramedy have turned out to be. Many who are associated with the basketball franchise have expressed their disdain for the show, with former player, coach and general manager Jerry West even taking legal action against the network. Former player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also spoke out against it for its depiction of himself and his colleagues. Now, the former NBA center is getting support from some colleagues. 

Winning Time covers a number of cultural touchstones from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, which likely evoke a bit of nostalgia for those who lived through those times. Among the many different pop culture references is a scene that shows Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the set of the 1980 film Airplane! Those who are familiar with the film are sure to know that the hall of famer played Roger Murdock, the titular plane’s stoic and towering co-pilot. He has a few memorable moments in the movie, including one funny and meta scene that was recreated by Solomon Hughes (who plays Abdul-Jabbar on the show).

While that specific sequence was recreated almost effortlessly, the NBA great took issue with what happened right after. Later in the scene, the former Laker drops an f-bomb when addressing his young co-star, who asks him for an autograph. The real-life skyhook innovator wasn’t too thrilled with it and, apparently, neither are the actual crew from the ‘80s comedy. In a letter written to the Los Angeles Times, directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker addressed the matter, saying that they were “surprised” by the scene from HBO’s series and that it doesn’t match up with what they experienced:

We had never seen anything like that on the ‘Airplane!’ set. In fact, during the ‘Airplane!’ shoot, and in the years since, we’ve found Kareem to be both professional and kind.

Additionally, the filmmakers told the news outlet that they’d reached out to Ross Harris, the young actor who was depicted in the polarizing Winning Time scene. Harris, when asked about the scene, reportedly said, “it absolutely did not occur” and that  his experience with  the athlete was positive. When sharing his thoughts on the show, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar asserted that he hadn’t said the word to any child. He believes the moment was “a shorthand way of showing my perceived aloofness during that time.” 

The legendary UCLA alum has also advocated for others while speaking out against the HBO series. On his blog, he spoke in favor of Jerry West, whose lawyers have asked the premium cable network for a retraction. West referred to the show’s depiction of him as “a baseless and malicious assault” on his character. West has also received support from Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who’s shared not-so-sweet thoughts of his own on the production. Johnson doesn’t plan on checking it out, as he doesn’t believe one can accurately replicate the vibe of the Showtime-era Lakers.

At this point, there’s no telling who else might come forward with thoughts on Winning Time. One thing that appears evident, though, is that former Lakers like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have a number of people in their corners.

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty drops its season finale this Sunday, May 8, at 9 p.m. ET, and the episode will be available to stream with an HBO Max subscription afterward. And if you’re in need of another show to watch when things wrap up, take a look at CinemaBlend’s list of New TV Shows for some guidance.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

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