Former Los Angeles Lakers champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar penned a Substack blog post titled “‘Winning Time’ Isn’t Just Deliberately Dishonest, It’s Drearily Dull” to call out the historical inaccuracies of the series and criticize its intentions. Abdul-Jabbar clarified that his opinion does not extend to how he personally is portrayed by actor Solomon Hughes nor about the “factual account” of the Lakers’ “Showtime” era.
However, Abdul-Jabbar did note that “Winning Time” repeatedly “commits the sin” of “being boring,” calling the script shallow and lazy. “The characters are crude stick-figure representations that resemble real people the way Lego Hans Solo resembles Harrison Ford,” he wrote. “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.”
The author additionally made clear that “Winning Time” avoided facts altogether and instead replaced past events with “flimsy cardboard fictions.”
Abdul-Jabbar cited the portrayals of Jeanie Buss and Claire Rothman as reducing their respective intelligence and clarified that Earvin “Magic” Johnson was never humiliated by Norm Nixon in a one-on-one game. “I could just imagine the writers gleefully rubbing their hands together in self-congratulations at coming up with that idea,” he added.
Furthermore, the NBA legend slammed the scene in which his fictionalized counterpart is shown telling a child actor to “fuck off” on the set of “Airplane!”
“I realize this was a shorthand way of showing my perceived aloofness during that time,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote, “even though I have often spoken about my intense, almost debilitating shyness. Sometimes the attention in public became so overwhelming I shut down to protect my sanity. The filmmakers had access to that information, but truth and insight were not on their agenda. Shocking moments were.”
He also debunked the depiction of Lakers executive Jerry West, played by Jason Clarke, calling it “a shame” to portray the titan as a “Wile E. Coyote cartoon” especially since West openly discussed his struggles with mental health and depression.
“He never broke golf clubs, he didn’t throw his trophy through the window,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Sure, those actions make dramatic moments, but they reek of facile exploitation of the man rather than exploration of character.”
Hours after Abdul-Jabbar’s blog post went live, West himself issued a legal letter to executive producer Adam McKay, HBO, and parent company Warner Bros.-Discovery on April 19 (via Variety). West’s attorneys stated that the series has “caused great distress to Jerry and his family” due to a “baseless and defamatory portrayal,” and demanded a legal retraction from HBO within two weeks.
“You took a happy and super successful Lakers era and turned it into a pulpy soap opera,” the letter stated. “You depicted the people in a false light, not at all who they are, to garner ratings and make money.”
Testimony from individuals who worked alongside West at the time is also included, with Claire Rothman and Abdul-Jabbar quoted in the letter.
“Winning Time” was renewed for a second season by HBO. Quincy Isaiah, who plays Magic Johnson on the series, also told TMZ Sports the same day as West’s legal letter was issued that “Winning Time” has “no malice behind it.”
Read the full statement from Skip Miller, Jerry West’s attorney and L.A.’s Miller Barondess, LLP law firm, below:
“The portrayal of NBA icon and LA Lakers legend Jerry West in ‘Winning Time’ is fiction pretending to be fact — a deliberately false characterization that has caused great distress to Jerry and his family. Contrary to the baseless portrayal in the HBO series, Jerry had nothing but love for and harmony with the Lakers organization, and in particular owner Dr. Jerry Buss, during an era in which he assembled one of the greatest teams in NBA history.
“HBO’s characterization of Jerry is so egregious and cruel that a number of former Lakers players, executives and associates — some who are also portrayed in the series and worked directly with him for many years — have weighed in:
- Michael Cooper, former Laker forward who worked closely with Jerry West as Special Assistant to the General Manager.
- Jamaal Wilkes, four-time NBA champion and former Laker forward.
- Mitch Kupchak, Charlotte Hornets President who played for the Lakers and worked for Jerry when he was Lakers General Manager.
- Frank Mariani, Lakers owner Dr. Buss’s longtime business partner.
- Claire L. Rothman, one of Dr. Buss’s closest associates who ran operations at The Forum for 20 years.
- Bob Steiner, former director of public relations for the Lakers, LA Kings and The Forum, as well as personal assistant to Dr. Buss.
- Charline Kenney, Dr. Buss’s executive secretary, who worked in the office with Jerry for 20 years.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who played for Jerry as his coach and also worked with Jerry in the Lakers front office.
“Jerry West was an integral part of the Lakers and NBA’s success. It is a travesty that HBO has knowingly demeaned him for shock value and the pursuit of ratings. As an act of common decency, HBO and the producers owe Jerry a public apology and at the very least should retract their baseless and defamatory portrayal of him.”