There’s a sweet bit of irony that, of all players from the Showtime Lakers, Spencer Haywood is the one who feels that “Winning Time” accurately portrayed his character.
In the show — and in real life — Haywood struggled with drug use, eventually leading to him being kicked off the Lakers before the end of the 1980 NBA Finals. He’s past the days of his drug use, fortunately, and has publicly discussed his struggles during that period of his life.
So, when it came time for those very struggles to find their way to the silver screen — pun intended — in the debut season of “Winning Time,” there was plenty of source material straight from Haywood available, including in Jeff Pearlman’s book that was used as the overall source material for “Winning Time” as a whole.
Even then, Wood Harris, who portrayed Haywood in the series, was apprehensive about how to handle the subject. In a piece with Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, Haywood talked about the conversations he held with Harris and how he felt things turned out in the series.
“Wood and I talked and he was a little sensitive about [the episodes] because everybody wants to protect me, but I said, ‘Whatever you have in documentation, go for it,’ ” Haywood said.
“I would say 95 percent of [his portrayal] was true,” Haywood said. “I’m a little disappointed with [how they captured] Jerry. But some real stuff went on that season.”
Naturally, even Harris dislikes Jerry West’s portrayal because that seems to be a requirement of anyone from that era.
But the idea that “Winning Time,” which is focused on some of the darkest days of Haywood’s career, would be something he is thankful for seems wild on the surface. But Haywood also spoke about how the show is giving him an opportunity to help others by showing and talking about his struggles.
“I love the attention,” he said. “Because of my suffering for all of these years with PTSD and now I feel so relieved in a way. And now all of this stuff is coming around again and I’m going on health shows and I’m talking about my true feelings that I couldn’t even get out for a while. This platform has given me a chance to let it all out and I feel freedom, so I’m thanking ‘Winning Time.’ ”
Haywood isn’t the only person to express gratefulness to “Winning Time” of late, a welcome change of pace. The family of the late Jack McKinney also thanked the show for giving McKinney the credit he has long been due for creating Showtime.
After so many criticisms levied at the show early on, it’s nice to see it getting some praise and plaudits. It wasn’t the perfect show, but few shows are in their debut season. There also seemed to be a nature of piling on from the Showtime Lakers that gave the show a bit too much criticism.
Ultimately, though, it’s great to see the show praised not just for being entertaining, but for being factual and giving someone like McKinney credit as well as being an honest depiction to give someone like Haywood a chance to speak his truth.