COLUMN: “Winning Time” captures NBA’s soap opera energy


Adam Tumino

Adam Tumino, Columnist

How much creative liberty is too much? According to the creators of the HBO series “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,” the answer seems to be that there is never too much.

The show so far has followed the Los Angeles Lakers through the 1979-80 NBA season, the rookie year for the iconic Magic Johnson and the first year the legendary Jerry Buss was the owner of the franchise. Clearly it is based on true events and most of the characters are real people, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Jeanie Buss and Pat Riley also being featured heavily.

Despite being based heavily in reality, the show is almost completely fictional. This has angered people that are portrayed in the show, mostly West, who said recently that he wants to take the issue to the Supreme Court, in what may have been a bit of an overreaction.

West is 83 years old and wildly successful. The man is the NBA logo for god’s sake. If I were him, I would probably focus my energy elsewhere.

But he does bring up an interesting conversation. When you are creating something based on real people, many of whom are still alive, how far can you go with it?

The show does contain a disclaimer that the events shown are fictional, which is more than enough for me. “Winning Time” is wildly entertaining, and as a work of fiction, I am enjoying the hell out of it.

I do not believe that any of the character portrayals should be taken literally. Each one does seem to contain some elements of truth, but only an incredibly naïve viewer would watch this show and think they are watching real people.

“Winning Time” is not a documentary, and it is irresponsible to treat it as one. It is one of the most engaging pieces of sports television I have seen, full of solid performances and exciting basketball scenes, although the focus is definitely on what happened behind the scenes and off the court.

Some of the real people portrayed on the show have said it turns the real events surrounding the Lakers into a cheap soap opera. Hell yeah, it does. I would be disappointed if it wasn’t a cheap opera. What sport is better suited for a soap opera than basketball?

The NBA is so needlessly dramatic every day. Just scroll through Kevin Durant’s Twitter feed for proof. Just this past season, Nets guard Kyrie Irving chose to miss almost every home game rather than get a COVID vaccine. Ben Simmons refused to play for the 76ers and then got traded to the Nets for James Harden, who no longer wanted to play in Brooklyn. Then Simmons got hurt and did not play a single game for the Nets.

Actually, “Winning Time” may be kind of accurate after all.

Adam Tumino is a senior sports media relations major. He can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].