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How Accurate Is HBO's Winning Time?

HBO's "Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty" is a no-holds-barred docuseries about the rise of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s. Under the guidance of ambitious investor Dr. Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly), the franchise became the legendary "Showtime Lakers," led by superstars players such as Earvin "Magic" Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes). This era also saw the rise of the iconic head coach Pat Riley (Adrien Brody), who became a celebrity in his own right thanks to his slick hairstyles, classy fashion, and propensity for guiding the team to success.

"Winning Time" delves into the roles the players and personnel played in the franchise's success throughout the '80s, and audiences and critics have responded positively to the series (per Rotten Tomatoes). That said, every show that's based on a true story should be taken with a pinch of salt, to some degree. Oftentimes, TV creators bend the truth for the sake of storytelling and dramatic effect, after all. So, is "Winning Time" another fabricated drama, or does it stick to the facts regarding the Lakers story?

Jerry West isn't a fan of his portrayal on Winning Time

Jerry West, the former head coach and general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, has made his unpleasant feelings about "Winning Time" known. Played by Jason Clarke on the HBO series, West is portrayed as a man with a violent temper, prone to smashing objects whenever things don't go his way. The former coach disagrees with this depiction, however, and it's led to some back-and-forth between his legal team and HBO.

West's lawyers claim that the depiction of him on "Winning Time" is false, and they have since demanded an apology from the network, as well as a legal retraction of the series (per Variety). West's team said that the characterization of him is "baseless," while also revealing that the show has brought distress to him and his family. A legal retraction doesn't seem to be on the cards, however, as "Winning Time" was renewed for a second season earlier this year, according to Deadline.

HBO also defended the decision to press ahead with the series and its portrayal of West, noting that the creators did their due diligence while researching the people and events that inform "Winning Time. "[The] series and its depictions are based on extensive factual research and reliable sourcing, and HBO stands resolutely behind our talented creators and cast who have brought a dramatization of this epic chapter in basketball history to the screen," the network said in a statement published by The Hollywood Reporter.

Jerry West didn't want to draft "Magic" Johnson

The first two episodes of "Winning Time" chronicle the events that lead to the Lakers' drafting of Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Jerry Buss insists that the team signs the rookie as he aligns with his celebrity vision for the team. Of course, this decision doesn't sit well with Jerry West, who believes that Sidney Moncrief would be a better scorer for the team, feeling that Johnson is too tall to play as a point guard. In the end, they opt to draft Johnson and the rest is history.

This storyline has some precedence in reality, too. It's true that Johnson didn't want to draft Johnson and play him as a point guard as he felt he was too tall. Furthermore, as reported in Jeff Pearlman's book "Showtime," West preferred Moncrief as he felt they were more than covered in the point guard position. In the series, it's also revealed that West didn't like Johnson as he smiled too much. As of this writing, there are no reports which confirm if West felt that way about the NBA legend in real life.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and "Magic" Johnson weren't enemies in real life

From the beginning of the series, "Winning Time" presents "Magic" Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as polar opposites who don't get along. The former is a young go-getter who embraces the celebrity element of the sport. Abdul-Jabbar, on the other hand, tends to keep to himself. However, the veteran does make the rookie bring him orange juice and a newspaper every day, which Johnson has no problem doing as serving the experienced players is a rite of passage in the Lakers camp. Unfortunately, it's all downhill from there.

That said, "Winning Time" has greatly exaggerated the friction between the two players. While it rightfully highlights how they were a match made in heaven on the court, their behind-the-scenes relationship was more non-existent than confrontational. While speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Abdul-Jabbar revealed that there were never any issues between them, but he also admitted that they could have made more of an effort to bond. "It just took a while before we got to know each other," he said.

The pair did become close over time, though, and remain good friends to this day (via The Spun).

The Spencer Haywood circumcision story is true

In the fifth episode of "Winning Time," Spencer Haywood (Wood Harris) joins the Lakers and immediately draws attention to himself for bizarre reasons. Basically, it's revealed that he performed self-circumcision as a teenager, causing his teammates to hurl around the new signing at the earliest opportunity in an attempt to view his handiwork. This prompts Haywood to inform his new colleagues that the rumors are true, saying that he "held it down like a copperhead snake" before performing the snip on himself. 

While this story might seem too far-fetched to be real, it's actually pretty accurate. Writing in his 1992 autobiography, "Spencer Haywood: The Rise, the Fall, the Recovery," the legendary power forward confirmed that he did indeed perform the procedure on himself as a teenager. His brother convinced him that circumcision was the only way to avoid insanity, and the rest is history.