“Winning Time” has proven to be a divisive production, as Los Angeles Lakers legends claim HBO misrepresented them and L.A.’s “Showtime” era in the TV series.
Magic Johnson said he wasn’t looking forward to watching the show even before it first aired in March. Jerry West has asked for a retraction and apology due to “a deliberately false mischaracterization” of the former Lakers general manager.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has joined in the criticism of “Winning Time” and wrote on his substack the writers distorted the characters by oversimplifying them, making the show a “frenetic melodrama”:
I’ll start with the bland characterization. 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.”
Abdul-Jabbar argues “Winning Time” creators correctly identified Showtime’s storytelling potential. However, he thinks they failed to capture the real story:
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.
West’s lawyers say Lakers legend and his family suffered ‘great distress’ due to ‘Winning Time’ portrayal
In the letter sent to HBO and “Winning Time” producers, West’s lawyers requested a retraction two weeks from the receipt of the letter. They also said the NBA great and his family suffered “great distress” due to the former Lakers general manager’s depiction.
“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,” the letter read.
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