After ordering a pilot tentatively titled “Showtime” in 2019, HBO announced in late 2021 that its Los Angeles Lakers-inspired series would be known as “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” and debut in March of the following year. (It dropped the “Showtime” name due to a certain competing premium cable network.) Unfortunately for fans, Sunday’s Season 2 finale also serves as the series finale — HBO has announced that the show has been canceled.
The show, a dramatized retelling of the rise of the 1980s “Showtime” era of the Lakers, was renewed for a second season a month after its debut. The show is based on Jeff Pearlman’s book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.”
Just last month, Pearlman expressed his worry that a Season 3 wouldn’t happen for the series, citing the ongoing Hollywood strikes as a major reason why as actors and writers couldn’t promote the show. He tweeted, “I’m telling you — the future of ‘Winning Time’ hangs in the balance. We need viewers. The strikes are crippling. Please help spread the word. Season 2 is amazing. But … HBO is big on #s.”
Pearlman added, “And, to be blunt, I’m worried there won’t be a season three. And it’s not about me. I’m fine. It’s about a cast of amazing young actors who live this.”
And, to be blunt, I'm worried there won't be a season three. And it's not about me. I'm fine. It's about a cast of amazing young actors who live this. So, seriously, tell your friends to support "Winning Time" and show @hbo you want it to continue. Peace. #winningtime https://t.co/1KD2uKOY16
— Jeff Pearlman (@jeffpearlman) August 16, 2023
“Winning Time” had all the right elements in position: a compelling story, based on an era in basketball that was dominated by a team led by legends Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Unfortunately, the show never quite hit its stride.
Season 1 didn’t even show a game of basketball until the fifth episode; Season 2 moved at lightning speed and worked through four years of the team’s story in one go.
Former Lakers players also haven’t been especially happy with the show. Jerry West’s lawyer wrote a letter claiming the show “falsely and cruelly portrays Mr. West as an out-of-control, intoxicated rage-aholic.” His letter was backed up with statements of support from Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes.
Abdul-Jabbar also wrote about the series on Substack, where he described the show as “boring” and ultimately concluded, “Yeah, there’s an amazing, compelling, culturally insightful story in there. ‘Winning Time’ just ain’t that story.”
Perhaps the biggest roadblock to the show’s success was that the real-life story of the time period in Lakers history was too good to dramatize. As great as Quincy Isaiah and Solomon Hughes are, it’s difficult to touch the charisma and presence of Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar in their prime (or even in 2023).
As Johnson himself put it, capturing the essence of the team is no small feat. He said in 2022, “First of all, you can’t do a story about the Lakers without the Lakers. The real Lakers. You gotta have the guys. There’s no way to duplicate Showtime. I don’t care who you get.”
The team at “Winning Time” certainly had their work cut out for them, and, unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough to keep the series going.