Adam McKay Isn’t Waiting for NBA to Approve ‘Winning Time’: ‘We’re Coming at This with Good Intentions’

There are a few basketballs in the air when it comes to straddling the NBA and real-life athletes' approval: "You know the drill at this point."
John C. Reilly and Quincy Isaiah in "Winning Time" lakers
John C. Reilly and Quincy Isaiah in "Winning Time"
Warrick Page / HBO

The “Friday Night Lights” of the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers may seem like an NBA-level tall order, especially when the real-life players don’t approve.

Adam McKay’s latest HBO series, “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,” is based on Jeff Pearlman’s book, “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty” and will premiere March 6 — with or without the NBA’s approval.

The 10-episode first season stars John C. Reilly as former Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, Sally Field as his mother, Jessie, and Hadley Robinson as his daughter Jennie (who now runs the Lakers in 2022). Newcomer Quincy Isaiah plays Earvin “Magic” Johnson while former Harlem Globetrotter Solomon Hughes portrays Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In a cover story for The Hollywood Reporter, the show’s team made clear that the NBA and athletes featured in the series, which begins in 1979 when Johnson is drafted by the Lakers, aren’t profiting from “Winning Time.” HBO confirmed that NBA league lawyers have reached out to the network regarding the use of official NBA logos and trademarks.

A Lakers representative told THR, “We have no comment as we are not supporting nor involved with this project.”

The real-life Johnson previously said he is “not looking forward” to the premiere of “Winning Time,” and is instead focusing on his own upcoming four-part Apple TV+ docuseries, “They Call Me Magic.” Former teammate Abdul-Jabbar also noted that “the story of the Showtime Lakers is best told by those who actually lived through it.” Both Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson are participating in a “Lakers-sanctioned” Hulu docuseries to be released in late 2022.

“Winning Time” creator Adam McKay noted, “We’re coming at this with good intentions, but these guys don’t know that. They’re used to a certain degree of media that’s always going after them, and if I could talk to them, I’d say, ‘No, no, don’t worry, we’re going to paint the whole picture,’ but I get it, they don’t know me or [showrunner] Max Borenstein, and it’s their right to really not like it.”

Of course, this isn’t McKay’s first time capturing real historical figures onscreen. The “Vice” and “Big Short” director has plenty of experience dealing with pushback: “We know the drill at this point,” McKay said. “You get the fact-checkers, you check with the lawyers, and there are very clear parameters: You’re never going to create character-defining moments; it’s always going to be within the realm of the true story.”

“Winning Time” star Adrien Brody, who plays coach Pat Riley, said, “Everything is done with such a love and sense of respect for these people, but it would be challenging to watch someone depict your life or a period of your life, if you’re well beyond it, and so I’m sensitive to that.”

And HBO president of programming Casey Bloys is standing by “Winning Time,” with a rumored Season 2 already being discussed, especially since the network optioned Pearlman’s follow-up book that charts the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal era for the Lakers.

“Obviously basketball is a really interesting part of it, but, and I say this as a 50-year-old gay man who’s probably been to five basketball games in my life, it’s much more a human story,” Bloys said of “Winning Time. “If the stories are there and the different eras are there, why not keep exploring it?”

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