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Tracy Letts On How Winning Time Finally Gives Lakers Coach Jack McKinney The Praise He Deserves - Exclusive

While the new series "Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty" could have easily kept the focus on the dominant years of the famed Los Angeles franchise in the 1980s, creators Max Borenstein and Jim Hecht clearly had something else in mind. The result is a comprehensive look at the team before and during the "Showtime Lakers" era, which is rooted in the fateful move of rookie owner Dr. Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) to select Earvin "Magic" Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) as the first overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft.

New on HBO and HBO Max, "Winning Time" isn't afraid to look at the rough patches the Lakers endured under Buss' new ownership, beginning with volatile player-turned-coach Jerry West (Jason Clarke) and his sudden resignation from the team before the 1980 season. And while fans often associate coaching great Pat Riley (Adrien Brody) as the man who ushered the Lakers to greatness in the 1980s, there were a pair of head coaches in the interim who teed up Riley for his success: Jack McKinney (Tracy Letts) and Paul Westhead (Jason Segel).

Letts hopes McKinney's family is pleased by seeing the coach's story told

While "Winning Time" deftly chronicles West's and Riley's stories, the series shows how vital McKinney's contributions to the team were before a debilitating bicycle accident sidelined him, which led to Westhead implementing his former superior's ideas as he took over the head coaching position. In an exclusive interview with Looper, Letts said spotlighting lesser-known figures like McKinney and Westhead is "one of the great things about the show."

"It not only gives us so much of the public face of the show, and the games and so much of the history that we already know, but a lot of what went into making it, the unknown history, the secret history of it," Letts said. "Jack McKinney, [it] would seem, was not only an important architect of the Lakers and the Showtime Lakers, and the success they had for years and years after that, but really [was a] pretty important figure in the development of basketball — fast-break basketball."

Letts, an accomplished actor whose credits include such films as "The Big Short," "Little Women," and "Ford v Ferrari," admitted that he knew very little of McKinney before joining "Winning Time."

"He's denied any credit for that because of the terrible tragedy that befell him, and I didn't know any of the history of that. I don't think most people know the history of it," Letts said. "I'm really glad that Mr. McKinney's going to get some attention as a result of this series. I hope his family is pleased to see that, because I'm sure for them, it becomes important that he's remembered for his contribution."

Letts loves how 'Winning Time' is more than a sports story

Tracy Letts, who won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for writing the Tony Award-winning play "August: Osage County," said from a writer's standpoint, he was thrilled that the "Winning Time" scripts "were so well written [and] the stories were so well told."

"It's not about the sport. The best examples of sports movies and sports stories are rarely about the sport themselves," Letts observed. "They're about the human story underneath. There's a great human story here. To really take the time the way the television series can, more so in this case than a movie — to take the time to establish why each one of these people needs this team, not only to come together, but ultimately to win. It's a beautiful way to establish the stakes for everyone."

"Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty" is now on HBO and HBO Max, with a new episode dropping every Sunday through May 8.