HBO And Winning Time Author Respond After Accusations And Criticisms

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty cast
(Image credit: HBO)

As HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty reaches the end of its first season, the show continues to spark controversy. The dramedy series, which has received positive reviews from critics and fans, has not gone over well with former players and members of the actual NBA organization. As a matter of fact, former Los Angeles Lakers point guard, coach and general manager Jerry West has taken legal action against the show and its home network. On the heels of West’s move, the premium cable channel has issued a response to the criticisms and accusations. And the author of the novel on which the show is based has also shared some general thoughts.

Last week, Jerry West’s legal team sent a letter to the channel and Adam McKay, in which the hall of famer blasted the show’s depiction of him. West referred to Jason Clarke’s portrayal as “a baseless and malicious assault” on his character. His attorneys also asked for a retraction no later than two weeks after receipt of the letter. The Home Box Office network finally responded to the request this week via a statement sent to THR. The entertainment company argued that the series is not a documentary but contended that “extensive factual research and reliable sourcing” was utilized for it: 

HBO has a long history of producing compelling content drawn from actual facts and events that are fictionalized in part for dramatic purposes. Winning Time is not a documentary and has not been presented as such. However, the series and its depictions are based on extensive factual research and reliable sourcing, and HBO stands resolutely behind our talented creators and cast who have brought a dramatization of this epic chapter in basketball history to the screen.

Every episode includes a disclaimer, which states that the production is a dramatization. Said message still hasn’t shielded Winning Time from backlash, though. As a matter of fact, Jerry West’s legal team specifically argued that the warning does not protect the network from liability. NBA vet Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, while sharing his thoughts, had no problem with the show being a fictionalized account of the ‘80s Lakers. However, he still chastised the Adam McKay-produced show for being boring, over the top and “filled with caricatures instead of fully developed characters.” His former teammate, Magic Johnson, also stated that he would not tune in because the show would not be able to replicate the Showtime era.

The TV program is based on the novel Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s, written by Jeff Pearlman. The author and sports writer has seen the critiques and, while speaking with Variety, he offered his thoughts:

I don’t get mad when people are talking about that. Obviously, people have a right. Some guy is writing a book. You don’t know him. ‘OK, well, how much are you going to pay me?’ I’m not going to pay you. ‘Well, what about editorial control?’ No, you have no editorial control. ‘Well, can I read my quotes before?’ Actually, you can’t. I get why people don’t talk to us. It always rubs my motor a little bit. I’m going to call every other teammate and every ball boy and every Laker girl, and I’m going to record the hell out of this… It makes sense that they have weird feelings about it. I harbor no grudge or ill will or anything.

The scribe’s sentiments mirror comments made by Quincy Isaiah, who portrays Magic Johnson on the show. When asked about the blowback, the up-and-coming actor said that he can “understand” where Johnson and his colleagues are coming from. Isaiah also referred back to the aforementioned dramatization tag and stated that there’s “no malice behind” the depictions. 

It’s fair to assume that HBO may have to contend with further Winning Time critiques moving forward. As of this writing, Jerry West’s legal team has yet to respond to the cable channel’s statement. We’ll just have to wait and see how both sides continue to navigate the situation, as work on the recently greenlit second season continues. 

As the off-screen drama continues, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty drops new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET, and they can later be streamed with an HBO Max subscription. Do yourself a favor and also check CinemaBlend’s 2022 TV schedule.

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.