From the very beginning, HBO’s ‘Winning Time’ was skating on thin ice. The dramatized series revolved around the glitz and glamour of the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers, Jerry Buss, and Magic Johnson, but it never garnered support from those it portrayed. In fact, the series has been criticized as “false” or “exaggerated,” and even Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, portrayed by Solomon Hughes, expressed his disinterest in the show. Abdul-Jabbar’s disdain isn’t solely based on inaccurate portrayals but also on what he sees as “shallowness and lazy writing.” Although season one drew 901,000 viewers for its premiere in March 2022. Season two, however, fared differently, with only 629,000 total viewers tuning in for its debut.
Season Two shifted its focus to the 1980 NBA Finals through 1984, showcasing Pat Riley’s rise as head coach, the iconic ‘Bird vs. Magic’ rematch, and more. Despite this storyline, HBO decided to end the show. Jeff Pearlman, whose book served as the basis for the series, mentioned last month on X the possibilities of the show ending if viewership didn’t increase. The original ending of season two was intended to depict Magic Johnson reflecting on the Lakers’ heartbreaking defeat by the rival Boston Celtics. However, the version that aired on Sunday night showed team owner Jerry Buss and his daughter Jeanie walking onto the Forum floor, with Jerry discussing his daughter’s future role in leading the team and their past accomplishments.
Executive producer Kevin Messick revealed to Vulture that HBO presented the possibility of ending the show after two seasons in January. At that time, they were allowed to film the aforementioned scene with Jerry and Jeanie Buss on the Forum floor.