Amid Criticism From Magic Johnson And Other Laker Alums, Winning Time’s Co-Creator Reveals Those Who’ve Supported The HBO Show

This past March saw the premiere of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, a dramedy series centered around the NBA organization’s “Showtime” era of the ‘80s. And like those golden days of basketball, the show generated a considerable amount of buzz. Many viewers and critics were taken with the interpretation of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s glory days, though the players themselves were less than pleased. Amid the criticism from the two hall of famers and others though, the show’s co-creator has revealed some of the folks that are connected to the subject who have lent their support. 

Winning Time co-creator Max Borenstein, like many of his colleagues, hasn’t been shy about addressing the hoopla caused by his new hit series. As the scrutiny continues, the producer and co. are working on the second season, which many fans are no doubt hyped for. While reflecting on Season 1 with IndieWire, Borenstein expressed excitement for what’s to come while addressing the viewers’ response. It was at this point that he confirmed the show received the blessings of a former coach’s family and a hall of famer: 

I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve done and excited to have a second season now to continue. The greatest satisfaction has been to see the responses from fans and online and from some of the people. In the case of Jack McKinney, we got through Jeff Pearlman a heartbreakingly beautiful series of texts from his family, from his wife and daughters who watched the show. They came in skeptical, of course, but also came away just really emotionally moved and to see their father and husband finally given his due. Even Lakers fans had forgotten that name, but he really was so instrumental. Spencer Haywood has been a real supporter, too. A lot of these people had an impact that didn’t deserve to be forgotten, and so the extent to which our show has been able to shine a light on those guys has been really gratifying. And we want to do more of that.

Jack McKinney began coaching the Lakers in the fall of 1979 and was instrumental in devising the fast-paced style of play that became synonymous with the Showtime Lakers. He would soon be sidelined due to a near-fatal bicycling accident and was ultimately relieved of his position in 1980 due to doubts about his mental faculties after the incident. Meanwhile, Spencer Haywood was a skilled veteran by the time he joined LA in ‘79, yet he battled with cocaine addiction during his one and only season with the team. He was ultimately dismissed by interim coach Paul Westhead during the 1980 NBA Finals, which his team won. 

Tracy Letts and Wood Harris in Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty

(Image credit: HBO)

Given what’s been said as of late, it may be surprising for some to hear that a few people that are connected to the NBA franchise have given their seals of approval. And they’re not the only ones. Former Los Angeles Laker Rick Fox consulted on the series, as co-creator Jim Hecht previously explained to CinemaBlend. Fox, a longtime friend of Hecht, provided feedback on scenes, making suggestions that would enhance authenticity. So while the number of the show’s detractors does outweigh the supporters, the HBO production had some key people in its corner. 

On the other hand, the critiques of Winning Time have been quite sharp. Magic Johnson said that he wouldn’t check out the show because it wouldn’t be able to replicate Showtime. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, while making his thoughts known, asserted that the series reduced its subjects to clichés. Former player, coach and GM Jerry West also took issue with the program and got lawyers involved to issue a complaint. Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss has not shared thoughts on the show, though she did have a sweet encounter with John C. Reilly, who portrays her late father, Jerry Buss.

When addressing the backlash during the same interview with IndieWire, Max Borenstein admitted that he would find it both “odd” and “strange” if he were in their shoes. But he went on to say that the production was crafted “with a great deal of appreciation and respect” by him and his colleagues. 

It may be too early to call this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Winning Time could draw another wave of responses whenever its second season drops. I’d also expect said reactions to be mixed should they come to fruition. Regardless of what may come though, Max Borenstein and his team appear pumped for the future and will surely continue to lean on the positivity they’ve received from Laker alums. 

The first season of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty can be streamed in its entirety by those who possess an HBO Max subscription. Viewers can also take a look at CinemaBlend’s 2022 TV schedule for info on other shows premiering this year.

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.