Apr 5, 2022 - Sports

The nostalgia of HBO's "Winning Time"

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson in 1981; LeBron James and Anthony Davis in 2022. Photos: Manny Millan/SI via Getty Images; Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

"Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty" is currently airing on HBO. Meanwhile, the present-day Lakers are writing a script of their own: Call it Losing Time.

Why it matters: This dichotomy has turned the series — which uses Ikegami cameras to teleport viewers back to 1979 — into a form of escape for Lakers fans. And that could be great news for HBO.

What they're saying: "People have asked me if the Lakers being terrible is bad for the show, and I tell them it's actually the opposite," says Jeff Pearlman, whose 2014 book, "Showtime," is the basis for the series.

  • "I learned this from books: People get very nostalgic when their team sucks. So I feel like the Lakers being awful is actually great for the show," he tells me.
  • "The power of sports, more than anything, is reminding you of how you felt and what it was like living in a certain time period, or being in a certain place."

The backstory: That nostalgia Pearlman describes is a big reason why this show got made in the first place.

  • On Easter Sunday in 2014, down-on-his-luck screenwriter Jim Hecht showed up at Pearlman's door with a simple pitch: He loved the book and wanted to turn it into a series.
  • "I grew up in Orange County, and to me, the greatest days in the world were going to see the Lakers play at The Forum," Hecht tells me. "I was the kid that would wait outside after games for autographs."

Fast-forward: Eight years later, "Winning Time" is a reality, with Hecht serving as co-creator, writer and executive producer. Most importantly, he's finally doing what he loves.

  • "This all sprang out of a really dark period in my life, where I had this realization that I had to stop trying to make stuff that other people want to see, and make the show that I'd want to watch."
  • "I'm the target audience [for this show]," says Hecht, whose prior résumé was almost exclusively animation (he wrote "Ice Age 2"). "I met Magic Johnson when I was six. I still keep that picture by my desk."

The last word: "To be able to walk on The Forum floor that we built [on a soundstage] is incredible," says Hecht. "There's Kareem. There's Magic. There's Dr. Buss. It's like walking into the fantasy of my childhood."

ICYMI ... Sunday's episode depicted the Lakers' 1979 opener against the Clippers, who had a player named Joe "Jellybean" Bryant. "Winning Time" used that opportunity to weave in a tribute to his son, Kobe.

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