HBO Responds to Winning Time Criticisms: The Series Is Not a Documentary

“Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” has been criticized for its flashy retelling of the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers empire, but now HBO is responding to a legal letter about the accuracy of the series.

The network issued a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, reading, “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.”

HBO added, “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.”

Former Lakers coach and general manager Jerry West, who is depicted in the series by Jason Clarke, enlisted his attorney to send a letter to Warner Bros. Discovery, HBO, and series producer Adam McKay demanding a retraction, an apology, and unspecified damages for a “pulpy soap opera” portrayal.

West’s attorneys stated that the series has “caused great distress to Jerry and his family” due to a “baseless and defamatory portrayal,” and demanded a legal retraction from HBO within two weeks.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also wrote a Substack blog post titled “‘Winning Time’ Isn’t Just Deliberately Dishonest, It’s Drearily Dull” to call out the historical inaccuracies of the series and challenge its intentions. Abdul-Jabbar likened the depiction of West as a “Wile E. Coyote cartoon” and a “shame” to see onscreen, especially since West openly discussed his struggles with mental health and depression.

The NBA has also stated that they are “not supporting” the series. HBO previously confirmed that NBA league lawyers have reached out to the network regarding the use of official NBA logos and trademarks.

While “Winning Time” episodes include a disclaimer to audiences that the show is “a dramatization of certain facts and events,” the series is based on Jeff Pearlman’s book, “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty.”

The 10-episode series is created by Max Borenstein and Jim Hecht and produced by McKay, who has helmed other historical dramas “Vice” and “The Big Short.”

“We know the drill at this point,” McKay formerly explained to THR. “You get the fact-checkers, you check with the lawyers, and there are very clear parameters: You’re never going to create character-defining moments; it’s always going to be within the realm of the true story.”

McKay continued about the controversy surrounding the series, “We’re coming at this with good intentions, but these guys don’t know that. They’re used to a certain degree of media that’s always going after them, and if I could talk to them, I’d say, ‘No, no, don’t worry, we’re going to paint the whole picture,’ but I get it, they don’t know me or [showrunner] Max Borenstein, and it’s their right to really not like it.”

HBO has already greenlit “Winning Time” Season 2.

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