The hype machine for HBO Max’s new series detailing the rise of the Showtime era in the 1980s is in full swing. Current Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James reacted on social media to a trailer for the series, set to debut in March. That reaction might earn him the ire of Lakers boss Jeanie Buss, who is one of many personalities with ties to the Lakers’ golden era in LA less than pleased with the show.
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty is a lightning rod for the folks who made the real thing happen. The Buss family is reportedly unhappy with the show, as are many of the players from the era. So James’ decision to help pump up the show to his millions of followers can’t be sitting well.
‘Winning Time’ is not a documentary about the Showtime Lakers
Flying in the face of the age of binging shows, HBO Max plans to release Winning Time with the traditional episode-per-week model.
John C. Reilly stars as Lakers owner Jerry Buss. It was assumed Will Ferrell would land the role partly because he wanted it and partly because the show’s creator was his longtime creative partner, Adam McKay. But according to Matthew Belloni of Puck, McKay instead cast Michael Shannon. Ferrell was unhappy. That feeling became livid when Shannon backed out and was replaced by Reilly.
It seems few around the Lakers are as excited as LeBron James is about the series. The Lakers declined to comment and, according to Belloni, the NBA is avoiding giving the show any free media.
The trailer featured the more prominent Hollywood names in the production, teasing Reilly and Oscar-winner Adrien Brody portraying Pat Riley. Jason Segal is on board as coach Paul Westhead, and Emmy-winner Michael Chiklis plays Red Auerbach. Why is Red Auerbach in a show about the 1980s Lakers? Because he is.
But per Belloni’s report, the principles from the Showtime era are extremely upset about the show’s tenor.
The NBA and the Lakers ‘absolutely hate this show’
The first bone of contention Jeanie Buss and others depicted in Winning Time is likely that no one is getting paid royalties. Buss has a deal in place for a behind-the-scenes Lakers show on Netflix. But per Belloni’s report, it’s the way the story unfolds that created such a visceral response:
“It’s absolutely true that the Buss family, the Lakers leadership, its ‘80s-era players, and the NBA in general absolutely hate this show. [They feel] HBO and McKay have taken real people and turned them into a fictionalized ‘80s version of Entourage or Ballers. According to someone who’s seen the pilot, it’s raunchy, filled with drugs and womanizing, and it is said to portray [Jerry] Buss as a misogynist party boy.”Matthew Belloni on Winning Time
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took the high road, telling Belloni better ways are available to tell the tale.
“While I respect other artists’ rights to choose their subjects, I think the story of the Showtime Lakers is best told by those who actually lived through it because we know exactly what happened,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
His manager, Deborah Morales, was less diplomatic.
“When the guy they cast to play Kareem got the part, he was super excited and reached out to me,” Morales said. “I don’t think that he realized the response that he was going to get, which was not very nice!”
She went on to say actors in the show won’t be welcomed around the NBA or the players portrayed.
But LeBron James is excited about the show, so there’s that.
The report does bring clarity to some apparent questions
The NBA welcomes publicity. Its silence about Winning Time was curious, but Belloni’s report sheds some light on what may be motivating that. Much like the NFL was with ESPN’s short-lived Playmakers in 2003, the Association can’t be thrilled about the stories of the wild days of the 1970s and 1980s coming out again. Especially not in fictionalized form.
But the NFL, had the leverage to press ESPN to cancel Playmakers because of their broadcast partnership. The NBA has no such ability to push HBO.
The NBA and the Lakers will continue to live in a cone of silence during the ramp-up to Winning Time’s debut in March. HBO will storm full speed ahead with its publicity blitz.
But there are some with Lakers ties associated with the show. Rick Fox, who played for the team during its 2000–02 championship run, is a consultant. DeVaughn Nixon plays his father, Norm Nixon, in the series.
The interesting period will be after the first episode airs. Those with grievances will likely go public with them. Then we’ll see if Winning Time is a winner for HBO Max.