How did so many talented people go so terribly wrong?
(Relatively) long-time reader, first-time commenter. Thanks for this piece, and for all the previous essays I have enjoyed. It is a pleasure to read your writing. Favorite part was learning about Stephen Crane’s short story and subsequent article. Love that you can weave together so many elements, and so with grace. Well done.
I’m so glad you wrote this. I watched the first few episodes of Winning Time and I have questioned a lot of what has been depicted. I was born in 1986 - but am fascinated with basketball culture and grew up loving the sport (Let’s Go Raptors!)
I agree with your comments about how the women are portrayed in Winning Time and watched Jeannie Bus’ interview with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes (ALL THE SMOKE) and she also mentioned her story which doesn’t line up with the Winning Time portrayal.
After watching the last episode of when the Lakers played the Celtics in 1981 (Bird and Magic’s first matchup) - I ended up watching the actual game on YouTube and saw that the Lakers won the game but it wasn’t with the overly dramatic way that they depicted (the show sends me down rabbit holes where I have to conduct my own research!)
I’m really excited to watch the Apple Documentary. Just finished reading your book, Becoming Kareem after I read the Autobiography of Malcolm X earlier this year.
Lastly, agree with you on Don’t Look Up.. really did not understand that movie.
Keep on writing, Cap!
Winning Time has been described by the show's writers and actors as "a love letter" to the team and the culture they remember. Reading Mr. Jabbar's rebuke of that love letter, I couldn't help but empathize with the writers of said letter. To be clear, I'm not being critical of the critique - Mr. Abdul-Jabbar's interpretation and feelings are his own - but my takeaway from "Winning Time" has been nothing but respect for all those portrayed.
Specifically, I would point to the portrayal of Mr. Abdul-Jabbar by Dr. Solomon Hughes. Of all the actors in Winning Time, I can't imagine a better man to communicate our collective love for "Cap" than Dr. Hughes. Being a tall, black man does not simply give Dr. Hughes the physical attributes to play Mr. Abdul-Jabbar, but also the life experience of being unable to shrink into the background in America. Dr. Hughes earned his PhD from the University of Georgia and had been working as a researcher and lecturer with a focus on academic achievement, race, collegiate athletics policy, and activism. Again, his portrayal of Mr. Abdul-Jabbar comes from a place of love. Nowhere is that more obvious than during this interview with Rod Barnes https://apple.co/37nDm1u
Portrayal of the other players are all done with love and respect. I understand how someone whose life is subject to the interpretation of others would feel violated, and perhaps misunderstood. That said, I've personally seen nothing that diminished my respect for these men and their journey. Yes, each back story is abridged in the interest of time - nevertheless, it's a compelling watch for those of us unfamiliar with those stories, and a motivation to learn more.
Nothing but love and respect for you, Mr. Abdul-Jabbar. We thank you for sharing your thoughts every week and continue looking your way for wisdom and guidance.
As the writers and directors of the movie, Airplane! we were asked to briefly play ourselves in the mini series, Winning Time. Because we had never seen the script, we were surprised to see the actor playing Kareem Abdul Jabbar say to a child actor, in response to an autograph request, "F==off kid.” We had never seen anything like that on the Airplane! set. In fact, during the Airplane! shoot and in the years since, we’ve found Kareem to be both professional and kind. When we saw Kareem's recent article, we contacted Ross Harris, the actor who played the child in Airplane!, for his response. He said, "It absolutely did not occur." He went on to say that "the entire experience with Kareem was positive" and that he "had never been contacted by Winning Time.” We feel compelled to set the record straight both in support of Kareem and because of the potential negative impact this might have on support for his non-profit Skyhook Foundation, which provides weeklong retreats for inner-city school children to study science while staying in the National Forest.
Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Kareem- your comments re: “Winning Time “ were spot on. Bio-pics at best are tough to craft factually, artistically, with creditable messaging while maintaining story consistency and integrity. When there is what appears to be a deliberate decision to play fast and loose with the lives and legacies involved as if the real people don’t exist or matter, an embarrassing cinema graphic disaster is inevitable . That’s when the producers typically claim a lack of depth in the materials they had to work with .
Guess the only redeeming question remaining is one asked by Warriors’ center J.B.Carroll in 1987 in the wake of another monumental “loser low watermark” (17 consecutive team loses)… “DID EVERYBODY GET PAID?”
Harry Edwards, Ph.D.
I’m not going to sit here and kiss Kareem’s you-know-what as most seem to be doing here. Instead, I’ll say I couldn’t disagree more with this piece. I say that as a KAJ fan, a Magic J. fan (to me he’s the true GOAT), and as a fan of the Lakers since 1979. This show has not once pretended to be a docuseries. In fact, I’d equate it to being more of a fever dream. It’s not about “the ‘80s” as Mr. Jabbar says. It takes place in 1979 and barely grazes much after. All this to say the show is much more a love letter to ‘70s LA culture and NBA basketball then anything else. And to call it “dull”...my word. It’s anything but. I get it, Mr. Jabbar, Mr. West, and Mr. Johnson don’t like the way they’re portrayed. Is there fire where there’s smoke? I can’t say. I wasn’t there. But in the case of Mr. Jabbar, I am shocked he thinks his portrayal is one-note, and that he’s a “prick”. No. His portrayal is arguably the most layered in the show, and listening to the actor (who portrays him) on a few podcasts, he is nothing but thoughtful and respectful and has nothing but the utmost hope that KAJ would appreciated his portrayal. It’s sad that he doesn’t, as he is portrayed as the strong man of faith I always though him to be. Everyone I know loves this show, and it’s a mix of Lakers fan and foe alike. In the end, art is subjective.
OK Kareem. That's a lot. And more of alliteration. All the Ds. You must have stayed up all night writing your critique. So glad I didn't bother watching the show. The playoffs are FAR more real & exciting. Perhaps McKay would be well served to keep a few of the game highlights to refresh his memory of real events.
Your "I don't care about these things" is a bit sarcastic & so humorous at times. Keep it up. Always love to read what think about. So refreshing!
The picture of you and Magic is priceless. Thank you.
As a woman who came up in the industry in the late 80s with a father in the business, your thoughts about how Jeanie Buss is portrayed resonated personally and more importantly calls out something as damaging as your character cursing at . child.I teach in sports management program and we always struggle with female enrollment. What message does this show send to women aspiring to be in the business when one of the most successful and inspirational women in sports in marginalized in this way?
Have been around the NBA for 45 years as an agent. This show is a complete piece of crap. I can’t even watch it. All kinds of things are messed up as Kareem writes.
I was particularly upset with how Jerry West was portrayed. A great man with issues like many of us have. I dealt with him mostly when he was a general manager and trust me he was one of the best in the league. Good negotiator and extraordinary judge of talent!!
I've been waiting to read your observations on this series, and it was time well spent. Wish I could say the same for "Winning Time". My two daughters are both lifetime Laker fans because of the games we attended at the Forum. Taking the high road with your critique lays bare the vacuous nature of this erratic entertainment. Kudos for your rational approach and insistence that they could have done a whole lot better given the talents and resources. And as so many others have mentioned, your writing is a joy to read. and a tribute to your commitment to quality work.
I'm glad you addressed this. I had thought of posting here to ask you to, but I found the three episodes of that show that I watched so offensive that I didn't want to bother you about it. Like you, I understand the need for some dramatic license in one of these things and to invent dialogue to get a point across. But just to flat out make up outrageous stuff was, in my opinion, unconscionable. Sure, you were very shy in those days, but I doubted you would treat Jerry West like you did in that scene early on when he tried to talk to you. And I was certain you'd never tell a kid to f--- off, especially a child actor who had just filmed one of airplane's funniest scenes with you, a film you clearly must have enjoyed doing or you wouldn't have a giant poster of it in your office. That scene, frankly, was the breaking point for me and I quit watching the series soon after. And yes, the treatment of Jeannie Buss and other women as dim-witted sex objects was repulsive. So was the portrayal of Magic Johnson, whose business success speaks for itself, as a sexual simpleton was not only repulsive but, in my opinion, borderline racist. What were the producers thinking? Other than chasing dollars, I guess we'll never know the answer to that question.
Your essay covers much more than a review and critique of “Winning Time”. I was particularly drawn to your comments about using fictionalized or dramatized depictions of historical events to tell a larger truth. I have taken a number of documentary film classes where this practice is referred to as “filmic truth”. Film, however, has the power to tell larger truths simply by the way it is edited, the shots that are selected, material in the frame and rhythm of sequences. I think all of the intrinsic properties of film need to be tried first before using fictionalized accounts. To do otherwise is either just laziness or lack of talent.
I stopped watching after the first two episodes. It was very disappointing. The representation of Jerry West was so offensive in my humble opinion.
What a wonderful piece. Thank you for sharing about your shyness as an example of something missing from the flat projection of your character.
"Drearily Dull" hahahaha! This thing is like an endless MTV video from the 1980's - couldn't they squeeze more Madonna cameos in there somewhere? I could use a nap! Kareem, I get that you don't want to come off as vindictive or over-sensitive and you don't want to hand more "bulletin board material" to your or your former teammates' critics. Your graciousness and eloquence and humor are remarkable. But as someone on the outside looking in, with an admittedly biased Showtime Lakers heart, I have to say that the makers of "Winning Time" should be made to pay restitution to all of us for luring us into watching this clickbait poisoned pablum. Refund everybody's HBO Max charges, pay Magic and his family royalties for the title, fund the Skyhook Foundation for the next century, and apologize on every media outlet and digital billboard in America to the Buss family (especially Jeanie), the Rileys, all the Lakers' players, coaches, and staff. Perhaps most of all, these numbskulls should be perp-walked down Figueroa lined with screaming fans to a bandstand where Jerry West appears from behind a giant NBA logo. Cue Randy Newman, real real loud: "I Love L.A.!" Let there be dancing in the streets.
11:03 AM (30 minutes ago)
I definitely share Kareem's concerns. I've watched some episodes of the show and have continuously found my interest wavering and then waning. I appreciate some performances, am stunned by a few writing choices but then walk away from the entire evening wondering, "why should I be expected to care about a story that identifies itself as an outright lie?" Two hours to watch a show deliberately obfuscating the truth, misrepresenting the lives of public figures alive and dead and somehow expecting an audience to appreciate a supposed "larger truth" about fame and fortune?
I always remember that moment in, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, when the newspaper editor says 'when you have to choose between the facts and the legend, you print the legend.' History has taught us the fallacies of that thinking and WINNING TIME is a reminder once again.
Please tell Kareem I personally find more joy and insight reading his essays and opinion pieces or watching replays of him and his "Showtime" teammates in competition on NBA TV.
Peace and Blessings,