The Los Angeles Lakers never have and likely never will have a public statement of support for the show “Winning Time.” Even as fans seem to thoroughly enjoy the series, the divisiveness amongst former players and those around the Showtime Era pretty much ensures the franchise will remain neutral on the matter.
But that doesn’t mean the Lakers, past and present, aren’t fans of those involved in the series, specifically when it comes to John C. Reilly. The main protagonist of the series, Reilly portrays the late, great Dr. Jerry Buss and has done an excellent job at it.
Reilly recently told a story of an interaction between him and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss predating the release of the series in a Q&A with Lane Brown of Vulture.
You recently met Buss’s daughter Jeanie, who is played on Winning Time by Hadley Robinson and is now herself the controlling owner of the Lakers. Did she give you any notes?
I went to a Lakers game and was in the lounge waiting for the game to start, and she came up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Jeanie Buss.” I was like, Whoa. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be thrown out of the building or what. She said, “Listen, the team’s not participating in the show, so I’m not here to say anything good or bad about it. But I wanted to tell you something personal: My dad knew who you were. He loved musicals, and he saw you in Chicago and really loved your performance as Mister Cellophane. He said, ‘See that actor? That’s someone that can make you laugh and make you cry. That’s the mark of a great actor.’ ”
Again, officially Jeanie has said nothing about the series. But unofficially, Jeff Pearlman — author of Showtime: MAGIC, KAREEM, RILEY, AND THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS DYNASTY OF THE 1980S,” the book that inspired the series — spoke on our pod with him shortly after “Winning Time” debuted and stated that Jeanie had liked the premiere episode.
“I know they’re not thrilled by the show coming out, (but) I was told Jeanie liked the first episode.”
Part of the reason the Lakers won’t publicly comment is because of how negatively the likes of Jerry West, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among others, have reacted. West, more than the others, has voiced his concerns by threatening to take the HBO and the showrunners as far as the Supreme Court.
In the Vulture piece with Brown, Reilly addressed the criticisms levied toward the show.
Speaking of Jerry West, Winning Time has come in for criticism for exaggerating the stories of the real-life people it portrays. Were you worried about blowback as you were making it?
The overall plot is based on historical fact, but we do fill in a lot of blanks. I knew it would be difficult for the people involved in this story to see their lives depicted in a semi-fictional way. But that doesn’t mean this story shouldn’t be told. The truth is these were crazy times. There was anger and betrayal, and the shit was hitting the fan. I respect everyone’s right to their own story, but I don’t think that precludes others from telling public stories. And this is a public story. People have said, “How can you tell the story of the Lakers without the Lakers themselves?” And my answer to that is, “How could you tell it with them?”
Reilly nails the crux of the matter when it comes to this series and the Lakers. If the team wanted to tell the dirtier and truer parts of the Showtime Lakers, then there was never going to be a scenario where the franchise was going to be either involved or signing off on it.
It leaves the Lakers in an interesting situation where the fans clearly love the show but they can’t really embrace it. They aren’t shunning away from having those associated with the series either. Just prior to its debut, Reilly attended the Lakers game against the Warriors that saw LeBron explode for 56 points in a win.
Reilly appeared on the official “Winning Time” podcast and joked about that night while also offering a fairly prophetic view on Dr. Buss and what he built the Lakers into.
“Not to be cheeky but I went to the game against Golden State when LeBron scored 60 points and won that game and I was sitting there thinking like ‘I know I’m not Jerry Buss. Everyone knows I’m not Jerry Buss.’ But I’m sitting here in this courtside seat and these guys know this show is coming out tomorrow night and I got to think, somewhere in that locker room, someone said ‘I’ll be damned if this show is coming out tomorrow and people are going to say yeah but they got their asses kicked by Golden State.’ LeBron was like ‘Hell no, not in Jerry’s house. Not in our house.’ I think the impact on the team and the impact on the Lakers was that kind of thing. That pride of place. ‘This is our house. This is a family team. This is this city’s team.’ Jerry built that thing in a way that everyone in LA, no matter how much of a sports fan they were, they felt like ‘These are our guys. This is our team.’
Perhaps as more time passes, the two sides can find a middle ground that allows both sides to prosper. But given the topics covered in the series — and honestly the somewhat graphic content with nudity and murder in the opening season alone — it doesn’t seem likely the Lakers are ever going to publicly support “Winning Time,” even if it’s been a much better product than the losing time team on the floor.