Kareem Abdul-Jabbar finally weighed in on Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty — and he is not a fan, to say the least.
The NBA living legend, actor and activist took apart the HBO series in a Tuesday Substack blog post he titled “Winning Time Isn’t Just Deliberately Dishonest, It’s Drearily Dull.”
Abdul-Jabbar, who won five NBA Championships with the 1980s Showtime Los Angeles Lakers, made clear in the intro that his opposing reaction to the series had nothing to do with how he is portrayed by Solomon Hughes or being a “stickler” for historical accuracy in dramatic interpretations. Abdul-Jabbar (who has written for The Hollywood Reporter as a contributing editor) also noted he originally was not going to watch the series, having lived through it, but after hearing about how some of his former colleagues were depicted, he had to see for himself.
“There is only one immutable sin in writing: Don’t Be Boring! Winning Time commits that sin over and over,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote, specifically calling out executive producer Adam McKay. “I’ll start with the bland characterization. The characters are crude stick-figure representations that resemble real people, the way Lego Han 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.”
Just like others who know Jerry West, Abdul-Jabbar took serious issue with how the former Lakers head coach is portrayed in the HBO series. Jason Clarke plays West in Winning Time.
“It’s a shame the way they treat Jerry West, who has openly discussed his struggle with mental health, especially depression,” wrote Abdul-Jabbar. “Instead of exploring his issues with compassion as a way to better understand the man, they turn him into a Wile E. Coyote cartoon to be laughed at. He never broke golf clubs, he didn’t throw his trophy through the window. Sure, those actions make dramatic moments, but they reek of facile exploitation of the man rather than exploration of character.”
Again stating that the portrayal of himself in the series had “no effect on me personally,” Abdul-Jabbar did address a moment that bothered him deeply, as it could have a lasting effect on his charity, the Skyhook Foundation.
The scene happens early in the series, when Hughes’ Kareem is working on the classic comedy Airplane! Hughes’ Kareem tells a child actor to “fuck off” when the boy asks for his autograph after their scene.
“I never said ‘fuck off’ to the child actor [Ross Harris] in Airplane!, nor have I ever said that to any child,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “I realize this was a shorthand way of showing my perceived aloofness during that time, even though I have often spoken about my intense, almost debilitating shyness. The filmmakers had access to that information, but truth and insight were not on their agenda. Shocking moments were.”
Abdul-Jabbar continued, “There is a victim here, it’s just that it’s not me. My charity, the Skyhook Foundation, provides week-long retreats for inner-city school children to study science while staying in the national forest. For years, I have been visiting schools to promote STEM education. But when people see this show and come away with an impression that I’m verbally abusive to children, they are less likely to support my foundation. That means fewer kids will be able to partake in the program. So Adam McKay is giving those kids a great big ‘fuck off!’ that lasts a lot longer than the easy laugh he got out of a dishonest joke.”
McKay did not immediately respond to a THR request for comment.
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty airs Sundays on HBO.