Jeff Pearlman was skeptical. Hollywood had previously reached out to the longtime sportswriter and author. Nothing has come of it to this day.
HBO is highly anticipated winning time Based on Pearlman’s 2014 book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s. The series premieres March 6 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and is also available to stream on HBO Max.
Awful Announcing caught up with Pearlman to discuss the process, the show and his next project.
How did it all start?
“Jim Hecht, a screenwriter, approached me. He came into the house on Easter Sunday 2014. We’re both Jews, so it didn’t really matter. We had dinner. He talked about his love for the book and thought it could be something. I didn’t believe him, but he was nice. I gave him the rights. I ended up doing it with no money, which was stupid.”
Did you think it would take so long?
“Over the years Jim has called me. I never believed him. I’ve always been skeptical. Then one day he says, ‘Adam McKay wants to meet us.’ I didn’t know who Adam McKay was. I swear to god. So I’m standing in front of Adam McKay’s house and I google “Adam McKay”. I say, ‘Oh, this guy has done a lot.’ We have a meeting. McKay sounds interested. He says, “I really like this book.” But I still don’t believe anyone. Then one day come orders from HBO. That’s the abridged version, but it’s true.”
Were you still skeptical?
“I’m signing those contracts, but I still don’t think anything is going to happen. You pay me some money. That’s cool. Then one day Jim says, “They start hiring actors: John C. Reilly, Adrien Brody, Sally Field. They will start recording that day.’ Suddenly, holy shit. It actually happens.”
Was that a longtime dream?
“That was never on my radar. It’s not like I wrote books because I thought it would be great if they made TV shows. It wasn’t something I had on my mind until my first book became optional years ago. It was about the 1986 New York Mets (The villains won!). That was the first time I realized there was this thing where they pick your books.
How similar is winning time to your book?
“It’s definitely similar. It’s not documentation. It’s a dramatic series. For example, in the book (the Lakers) had a coach named Jack McKinney when Magic was drafted. He coached her for a handful of games and then had a bike accident. Very few people have spoken about it. I have written extensively about it. Watching the show and digging deep into Jack McKinney just warms my heart.
“Jerry Tarkanian was hired briefly to coach the Lakers. You dive deep into Jerry Tarkanian. It’s really awesome. I felt they did a good job in taking the story and bringing it to life.”
Did you have a big influence on the series?
“Very little. It’s not my[job]but they were incredibly cool. I had a good feeling early on. Someone called me and said, ‘Do you know what material the summer league uniforms were made of, the Magic Johnson wore in 1979? Do you have pictures of those uniforms? We really want to get it right.’ “I remember going to the set and they recreated the 1979 NBA basketballs. They actually remade the balls with the same material. You could tell these guys meant business.”
Whose performance surprised you?
“The guy who plays Magic Johnson is my favorite story. Quincy Isaiah was a Division III football player from Michigan. His birth name is Quincy Crosby. He played at Kalamazoo College. Never heard of him. Almost no acting experience. They see the guy as Magic Johnson and it’s ridiculously good. He’s bursting with young magic.”
How’s John C. Reilly as Jerry Buss and Adrien Brody as Pat Riley?
“Absolutely amazing. John C. Reilly is great. And it’s funny with Brody. My wife and I watched the show. For five minutes at the beginning I’m like, ‘I don’t know. I feel like I’m just going to Seeing Adrien Brody. Then suddenly a transformation happens. I think that’s why he’s an Oscar-winning actor. He really channels Pat Riley.”
Will you be in any other TV shows or movies?
“Jon Wertheim and I worked at sports illustrated for years, and we’re writing a screenplay. I’m not saying that winning time was the exact reason, but it opened my eyes to a different way of writing. I like the idea of diversification. It’s with Time Studios owned by Time Warner. It’s about a school shooting.”
Why this topic?
“Time Warner approached us to write a screenplay about the ongoing travesty that is America’s school gun violence problem. i am a father Jon is father. We’re both passionate about this subject and it seemed like a real opportunity to write something worthwhile.”
Winning Time premieres March 6 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and is also available to stream on HBO Max.
[Image via HBO on YouTube]