It’s a shame that Magic Johnson wants no part of this new HBO series about the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s. The trailer for Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, was released in early December, and the series will debut on HBO Max in March 2022.
TMZ Sports asked Johnson if he was excited about the series. He said, “No,” “I’m not looking forward to it,” and “We got different shows coming out.”
Antoine Fuqua — director of Training Day and The Equalizer – is working with Los Angeles Lakers CEO Jeanie Buss on a nine-part docuseries about the history of the franchise. Many of the Laker greats, including Johnson, Pat Riley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, and Phil Jackson have been interviewed for this series that will premiere on Hulu in 2022. Buss is also the executive producer on Mindy Kaling’s Netflix comedy about a fictional woman governor of an NBA franchise.
Those projects might be great, but none of them focus on this important era that arguably saved the NBA.
In 1979 the future of the NBA was in doubt as the league had become too Black for White America, merely 11 years after the final major piece of legislation from the Civil Right movement had passed, The Fair Housing Act. Racial tension was high with bussing and school desegregation in the major cities, and the Supreme Court began rolling back Civil Rights legislation the decade after much of it was passed. Combine that with an early bad television partnership with CBS and a scorned former business partner in the late Roone Arledge, the NBA Finals were airing on taped delay.
That was the year that Johnson was drafted by the NBA’s premiere franchise and he went quickly from winning the NBA Finals MVP on taped delayed broadcast to becoming the most famous person in Los Angeles. The television stars, the movie stars, the Jacksons, they all wanted to hang out with Johnson and the Lakers suave owner, Jerry Buss.
This era has been explored in documentaries before, one of the best being HBO’s Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals, directed by Ezra Edelman — Emmy award winner for ESPN’s OJ: Made in America. Jackie MacMullan, writer of a book about Johnson and his rival turned friend Larry Bird — When the Game was Ours — was featured heavily in that documentary.
Winning Time is from Adam McKay — director of Step Brothers and Don’t Look Up — and is based on Jeff Pearlman’s book about the 1980’s Lakers titled Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.
At first I wasn’t too sold on the project having read and watched a lot about those Lakers and then I saw the trailer that opens with John C. Reilly as Jerry Buss saying, “There’s two things in this world that make me believe in God. That’s sex and basketball.”
McKay hooked me like a fish with that.
Then I thought about it more closely, and if there ever was to be a television series about a sports team, there’s no better team than those Lakers. For one, it’s basketball so no helmets or hats, and also it’s the perfect time period. All of the “No means No,” and former president Ronald Regan wanting to begin the world all over again, while on one side of Los Angeles is the sex and drugs and rock and roll party, and the other side Operation Hammer is full force by the LAPD occupying South Central Los Angeles like conquered a foreign land. In the middle of it all, the Lakers are playing in South Central, Inglewood, Calif., and dealing with the racial tension in sports all while partying with the free loving, free snorting Hollywood.
That’s why it would have been great for Johnson to be part of this project somehow or at least embrace it. He was the king of Hollywood. He was at all the best parties and even though he wasn’t a drinker or drug user. The man was hanging out with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in the 1980s. Johnson was as in the mix as any human being could be. If you thought the late Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories were entertaining, with Johnson there would be no need for any other sketches on the Chappelle Show.
Also, it would’ve been nice to see clips of him hanging out with the young actor playing him, Quincy Isaiah, just like Jamie Foxx and Ray Charles during the filming of the movie Ray. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
Johnson will tell his story in the Hulu docuseries and anywhere else the way he wants to, with the people whom he wants to tell it with. That’s his prerogative. I’m still going to check out this HBO project, but I do wish Johnson was at least a little bit excited about it.