John C. Reilly Stands by HBO’s ‘Winning Time’ Accuracy Amid Controversy: ‘This Is a Public Story’

"People have said, 'How can you tell the story of the Lakers without the Lakers themselves?' And my answer to that is, 'How could you tell it with them?'"
John C. Reilly, Winning Time
"Winning Time"

Adam McKay’s so-called Los Angeles Lakers love story “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” has been hit with criticisms over its portrayal of the 1980s NBA team.

Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Jerry West have all slammed the “false” series for over-the-top depictions and historical inaccuracies. Former Lakers coach and general manager West even threatened legal action against HBO over grounds of defamation.

Now, lead star John C. Reilly, who portrays the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss, weighs in on the controversy.

“The overall plot is based on historical fact, but we do fill in a lot of blanks,” Reilly admitted to Vulture. “I knew it would be difficult for the people involved in this story to see their lives depicted in a semi-fictional way. But that doesn’t mean this story shouldn’t be told.”

The “Step Brothers” icon continued, “The truth is these were crazy times. There was anger and betrayal, and the shit was hitting the fan. I respect everyone’s right to their own story, but I don’t think that precludes others from telling public stories. And this is a public story.”

Reilly added, citing NBA all-star Johnson’s jab at the series, “People have said, ‘How can you tell the story of the Lakers without the Lakers themselves?’ And my answer to that is, ‘How could you tell it with them?'”

Series creator and producer McKay has assured Lakers alums that the series has “good intentions” but that it’s “their right to not like it.” HBO issued a statement that “Winning Time” is “not a documentary and has not been presented as such.”

The network clarified, “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.” The series has also been greenlit for a Season 2, despite the Lakers officially not supporting the project.

And while actor Jason Clarke’s portrayal of West has been making headlines, Reilly revealed that the family of his real-life onscreen counterpart Buss has been supportive. Buss’ daughter and current Lakers owner Jeanie Buss even introduced herself to Reilly while at a Lakers game.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to be thrown out of the building or what,” Reilly recalled to Vulture. “She said, ‘Listen, the team’s not participating in the show, so I’m not here to say anything good or bad about it. But I wanted to tell you something personal: My dad knew who you were. He loved musicals, and he saw you in ‘Chicago’ and really loved your performance as Mister Cellophane. He said, ‘See that actor? That’s someone that can make you laugh and make you cry. That’s the mark of a great actor.'”

Reilly, who earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for “Chicago,” added that he “felt similar” to Buss with his self-made roots.

“He also reminded me of my dad, that generation of man that was unapologetically macho, that had seen real hardship. So I was intuiting my dad’s energy,” Reilly continued. “The more layers of the onion I unraveled, the more I was amazed at how much I was already in the zone to play this character [but] I’ve never played a character for this long in a movie or play, and it took a certain amount of emotional stamina to hold on to Jerry for 10 episodes.”

As for what’s next for “Winning Time,” Reilly summed up, “It’s above my pay scale whether HBO wants to get into the Shaq and Kobe era, but I’m only obligated to do another season of the show, and I haven’t even thought about whether I would want to keep doing it beyond that.”

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