Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

'Winning Time': Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West Blast HBO's 'Dishonest' Series

It's a fun show, but some LA Lakers legends aren't happy about how they're depicted in this dramatized retelling of their real-life story.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
2 min read
Los Angeles Lakers player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (seated left, wearing goggles) and coach Jerry West (standing center, beige suit) celebrate at the Forum in 1977.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (seated left, wearing goggles) and Jerry West (standing center, beige suit) celebrate during a Lakers game in 1977.

John G. Zimmerman/Getty Images

HBO 's Winning Time is a swaggering, sensational dramatization of a thrillingly glamorous moment in basketball history. But some viewers aren't enjoying the acclaimed TV show: Former LA Lakers coach Jerry West has demanded a retraction from HBO about the way he's portrayed in the series, while former star player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar calls the show "deliberately dishonest" and "drearily dull."

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty tells the story of the LA Lakers team in the late 1970s and the 1980s, when they found a world-beating formula with Magic Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar setting the court alight. The 10-episode show stars John C. Reilly as new owner Jerry Buss, portrayed as the catalyst for this triumphant era. Airing until May 8 on HBO and streaming on HBO Max, the series has already been renewed for a second season. 

Jason Clarke plays coach Jerry West, a former Lakers player whose silhouette is still seen in the iconic NBA logo. In the show, West is depicted as a volatile (and slightly buffoonish) character at odds with Buss. In a whimsical moment from the latest episode, the show depicts West being taunted by a trophy that comes to life. But West's attorney disputes this characterization in a letter to HBO, which says the series has "caused great distress to Jerry and his family" and demands an apology and retraction from HBO. 

According to the letter, Winning Time "took a happy and super successful Lakers era and turned it into a pulpy soap opera." The letter, reported earlier by Variety, says West had a harmonious relationship with Buss.

Jason Clarke as Jerry West and John C. Reilly as Dr. Jerry Buss in a typically combustive scene from HBO's Winning Time.

From left: Jason Clarke as Jerry West and John C. Reilly as Jerry Buss in a typically combustive scene from HBO's Winning Time.

Warrick Page/HBO

Abdul-Jabbar also disparaged the show in his Substack newsletter, calling it a "Frankenstein's monster" of gossip and fiction. "The issue with Winning Time," he said, "isn't so much that the filmmakers deliberately avoided facts as if they were an STD, but that they replaced solid facts with flimsy cardboard fictions that don't go deeper and offer no revealing insights." 

Winning Time is based on the book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s by Jeff Pearlman. The author also weighed in, taking to Twitter for a lengthy thread in which he points out that Abdul-Jabbar refused to be interviewed or involved with the book or the TV series. Pearlman calls the show "an ode to the Lakers" and defends it as "a TV show. Entertainment. Not a documentary."

HBO responded with a statement defending the show, and by extension the concept of TV shows drawn from real-life stories. "HBO has a long history of producing compelling content drawn from actual facts and events that are fictionalized in part for dramatic purposes. Winning Time is not a documentary and has not been presented as such. 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."

2023's Best TV and Streaming Shows You Can't Miss on Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus and More

See all photos

New Movies Coming in 2023 From Marvel, Netflix, DC and More

See all photos