"I don’t want to talk about it," the NBA legend said Monday on SiriusXM NBA Radio's NBA Today. Abdul-Jabbar already made his disdain for the series known, long before the show premiered. “While I respect other artists' rights to choose their subjects, I think the story of the Showtime Lakers is best told by those who actually lived through it,” Kareem said to Puck in December. “Because we know exactly what happened.” As Brady Langmann points out, while Solomon Hughes has done a great job portraying Abdul-Jabber, the early scenes featuring Abdul-Jabbar aren't flattering. "You can't blame Abdul-Jabbar for not supporting Winning Time," says Lagemann. "Sure, the most recent episode of the series brilliantly depicts the star's coming of age, crisis of faith, and relationship with Magic Johnson. But before Episode Five, Winning Time shows Abdul-Jabbar telling the little boy from Airplane! to 'f*ck off,' as well as the fictionalized version of himself hazing Johnson with an annoyingly specific orange juice order. Unless Abdul-Jabbar gives Winning Time another shot, we can safely rule out more words from the man on the subject."
How Solomon Hughes learned to channel Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: "The writers were huge fans of Kareem so there was a collective pursuit of trying to catch the nuances," he says. "I really wanted to capture his soft-spoken-ness. You can tell his brain is always processing when he’s in conversation. There’s lots of theories as to why he was so reluctant to engage with sports media, but when you unpack all the things he associated himself with, whether it was supporting Muhammad Ali by protesting the draft or boycotting the 1968 Summer Olympics, you can see he is an intellectual person who craves deep conversations. Having to deal with this sports-media body that was not diverse at all and wanted him to focus on one thing, basketball, was frustrating for him on a daily basis. I wanted to capture the anger sustained within someone who is being pulled in one direction when they want to go another. It’s not just, Oh, I’m annoyed today; there’s lots of context as to why this individual is not responding the way people want him to." Hughes adds: "My dad is the same age as Kareem and I would think about what it must have been like to come of age in the civil-rights era. We’re in this time where we’re interrogating law enforcement and how law enforcement interacts with the Black community and communities of color. My father talked about how, growing up in the South, your job was to figure out a way to navigate a world where it was very clear that justice was not on your side. I wanted to empathize with Kareem, who is trying to reconcile this crazy world around him, by copying his stillness."
Hughes says working on Winning Time has made him love basketball again: “This experience has really made me love the game of basketball," he says. "Working with a number of people — writers, producers, execs — who loved the game, and seeing it through their eyes has really just increased my appreciation for it. College basketball was a machine, at least when I was playing. It’s easy to get disillusioned because it’s a business. It’s professional, but under the guise of amateurism. At the end of the day, you’re playing for a team where the coach’s job rests on wins and losses. That pressure absolutely bleeds down into how you’re experiencing it. And so, for all the rhetoric like, ‘This is the college experience and we just want you to have fun,’ everybody’s focused on the bottom line. That was part of why I fell out of love with it.”
DeVaughn Nixon went "Daniel Day-Louis" for his Episode 1 one-on-one scene with Quincy Isaiah's Magic Johnson: "I went on my Daniel Day-Lewis kind of thing because I wanted that tension," he says. "I wanted the audience to feel that friction between us. Quincy’s mom was on set that day, so I told her, 'I’m going to bring it to your son.' I had to call him the next day because of the scene where I step over him when he falls on the court — that wasn’t scripted. I saw him on the ground, and I was like, 'Let me piss him off.' I wanted to get that reaction out of him. The next day, he asked, 'Are we good, bro? Do we have a problem?' I told him, 'I just wanted to push your limits. I just wanted to elevate the acting.” I wanted to elevate the scene and I think that translated on screen.'"
Winning Time executive producer Rodney Barnes discusses crafting this week's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar episode: "We did a lot of research about Islam; We did a lot of research about Kareem and that moment in time where he was at his most political, I guess you can say for lack of a better word, his conversion and when he changed his name and how that affected his family," he says. "All of that stuff we did a deep dive of. Research into books, articles, anything that we could find to put that together. And then there was this other intangible (part of) appreciation and respect that we infused in there as well. Anything that felt like we were taking too much dramatic license or it could be deemed disparaging in any way, we left on the cutting room floor and really honed it down to what we felt shined a light on him that I think he deserves as a hero and an icon, and someone that I really, really respect. But I’m honored to have written that episode along with Max (Borenstein) and I’m proud of it."