Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the most accomplished people in the history of professional basketball, without any question. In all likelihood, he is one of the more accomplished people of any kind on the planet. Aside from being one of the greatest basketball players to ever player, he is an accomplished novelist, actor, martial artist, social advocate, historian, and documentarian. So when Abdul-Jabbar has some criticism for you, it is not just coming from a place of gut reaction; the man knows what he is talking about in pretty much any field you could mention. When it comes to the new HBO drama Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, it turns out that Abdul-Jabbar is not a fan. And while the series starring John C. Reilly concerns a time period pivotal in his own life and he could have a lot of concerns about his own portrayal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar really has one major one: he thinks it is boring.
In a recent blog post on his excellent and entertaining Substack, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke down his feelings about the show. Winning Time was created by Max Borenstein and Jim Hecht, based on the non-fiction book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s by Jeff Pearlman. It is produced by Anchorman and Vice filmmaker Adam McKay (who also directed the pilot episode). Abdul-Jabbar does not discount any of these peoples’ work, and specifically says that he frequently admires McKay’s work (with the exception of the recent Netflix feature Don’t Look Up). He straightforwardly states that he understands Winning Time is a fictionalized account and that often liberties must be taken with actual events for thematic purposes (even mentioning the historical fiction he himself has written about Queen Victoria). However, he does have a real problem with a scene that has the fictionalized version of himself (played by Solomon Hughes) tell a child actor on the set of Airplane! to “f–k off,” stating that it has no meaningful subtext other than shock value. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also writes of his concerns that it may be taken for a true event, making people less likely to involve themselves and their children in his charitable foundation.
But Kareem Abdul-Jabbar really feels the biggest sin that a piece of writing can commit is to not be interesting, and he does not think that Winning Time is. In his article, he uses memorable turns of phrase to describe the thinness and characterization of people he himself knows; he is less insulted than by what they do on screen than by their lack of depth beyond the simplest of pop culture perceptions of them. Or as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar puts it: “It’s as if he strung together a bunch of flashing colored lights and told us, “This is the spirit of Christmas.” There is likely not a better turn of phrase that we can use for that. Winning Time has already been renewed for a second season on HBO, but it does not sound like Abdul-Jabbar will be tuning back in. From what the legend says, he did so in the first season out of curiosity but found only boredom.