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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Shares His Thoughts On HBO's Laker Series Winning Time, And He Does Not Hold Back

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Kareem: Minority of One
(Image credit: HBO Films)

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty has made some serious waves over the past several weeks. The HBO series, which focuses on the organization’s “Showtime” era in the ‘80s, has earned positive reviews, solid viewership numbers and a second season renewal. Amid its success though, the dramedy has received some not-so-positive feedback from some of the real-life players it’s depicting. Former Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shared some thoughts just a few weeks ago, but he really didn’t hold back with his latest comments. 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar previously said that Winning Time “wasn’t worth watching” and asserted that it portrays people that he knows in a “very negative light.” In the latest installment of his newsletter, however, he revealed that he has watched the series and proceeded to lay out his biggest gripes with it. The NBA legend, who’s also a lover of film and TV, referred to the production as boring and admitted to being surprised by this, given director Adam McKay’s involvement. Abdul-Jabbar then went on to chastise the characterizations of some of the Lakers’ biggest names like Dr. Jerry Buss (played by John C. Reilley):

The characters are crude stick-figure representations that resemble real people the way Lego Hans Solo resembles Harrison Ford. Each character is reduced to a single bold trait as if the writers were afraid anything more complex would tax the viewers’ comprehension. Jerry Buss is Egomaniac Entrepreneur, Jerry West is Crazed Coach, Magic Johnson is Sexual Simpleton, I’m Pompous Prick. They are caricatures, not characters. Amusement park portraits that emphasize one physical feature to amplify your appearance—but never touching the essence. The result of using caricatures instead of fully developed characters is that the plot becomes frenetic melodrama, sensationalized invented moments to excite the senses but reveal nothing deeper. It’s as if he strung together a bunch of flashing colored lights and told us, ‘This is the spirit of Christmas.’

The hall of famer also asserted that while the show’s depiction of him isn’t his reason for speaking out on it, yet he doesn’t believe the show did its due diligence in handling his characterization. He specifically took issue with a scene in which his fictional counterpart drops an f-bomb whille telling a child to leave him alone. 

While discussing a myriad of other elements, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also criticized the plot. He believes the story is what one gets when they’ve “gathered the biggest gossip-mongers from the Real Housewives franchise and they collected all the rumors they heard about each other from Twitter.” This seems to be particularly disappointing to him, as he believes the the Showtime era doesn’t need to be altered in order to be interesting:

Clearly, the show hoped to capture the zeitgeist of the socially adrift Eighties and how Jerry Buss’s brilliant visionary approach launched the popularity of basketball into orbit. How a group of young men came together—with all their personal issues—and became one of the greatest teams in NBA history. To show the pressures on successful Black men emerging from two decades of tumultuous civil rights unrest. To explore what happens when you throw a bunch of highly competitive elite athletes together into the cement mixer of professional sports, celebrity, and money, and see how they struggle to balance all that and still find a way to defeat dozens of other teams composed of the best players in the world. Yeah, there’s an amazing, compelling, culturally insightful story in there. Winning Time just ain’t that story.

His former teammate, Magic Johnson, was more succinct with his views, but the general sentiment was the same. Johnson, who initially shared a short and not-so-sweet message for the program, believes that one simply can’t duplicate Showtime. With this, he’s asserted that he won’t be checking out HBO’s show

Quincy Isaiah, the actor who portrays the former point guard, has since spoken out on the legend’s criticisms. He empathized with the media mogul’s views and stated that there’s “no malice” behind the production. Isaiah also pointed out that Winning Time is merely meant to be a “dramatization” of events, something that’s pointed out in the disclaimer that appears at the top of each episode. 

Considering how pointed their statements are, I’m not sure Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Magic Johnson will be swayed by the actor’s sentiments. We’ll see if any other Los Angeles Laker legends decide to chime in before Season 1 concludes in just a few weeks. 

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty airs new episodes on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET, which can also be streamed with the use of an HBO Max subscription. And if you’re looking to line up something to watch after the season ends, take a look at CinemaBlend’s 2022 TV Schedule for some inspiration.

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.