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How Would a TV Series About the Showtime Lakers Work?

Adam McKay and HBO are reportedly developing a show about one of the most iconic teams in NBA history. We have some thoughts and suggestions if they need them.

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Variety reported on Tuesday that Adam McKay, director of Vice and The Big Short and executive producer of Succession, is bringing a series based on the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s to HBO. Off the news, watchers of TV and basketball alike at The Ringer had some ideas about casting and the direction of the series.


1. How do you turn this into a show?

John Gonzalez: How do you not make it a show? How has no one made it a show before now? An all-time great team, in Los Angeles, in the ’80s, with all the sex and drugs and A-list celebrity hangers-on that swirled around those guys? Just give them all the Emmys right now. I mean, Paula Abdul was a freaking Laker Girl, and I’m not sure she’d make the cut of the 25 most interesting things about that era. I could not be more excited.

Chris Almeida: Lean into the absurd. Given that Adam McKay is involved, I guess that’s already the plan. But I wouldn’t complain if this is more Step Brothers than biopic. Who wants to see John C. Reilly put on some rec specs and play Kurt Rambis? Yeah, me too.

Michael Baumann: Ratchet everything up to 11. If this show set in the ’80s in L.A. isn’t irretrievably maximalist, what are we even doing here?

Andrew Gruttadaro: Easy—you kick off the premiere with Magic Johnson corralling a rebound, and just as he’s about to hurl it down to Kareem, the camera cuts to Emma Stone, who explains what a fast break is while cooking a rotisserie chicken.

Dan Devine: Maybe you start with Magic Johnson bumping Paul Westhead out the door, and Pat Riley stepping in to take the reins. (I’m embarrassed to admit this, but my first thought was, “Sort of like how Steven Weber fired Judd Hirsch and then Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry took over Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip in the pilot of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” You know, a beloved show to base your decision-making on, and a reference that everyone will get!) Set up Magic, Riley, Kareem, Jerry Buss, and assorted other supporting characters early, angle the first season toward their run through the ‘81-’82 Finals over the Sixers and Julius Erving (played by a digitally de-aged Eriq La Salle), and then try to hit the major narrative beats of the rise and fall of the Showtime dynasty. And pray.

2. Who should play Pat Riley?

Gruttadaro: Dye his hair and put Ryan Gosling in this thing. He’s got the ability to be both weirdly handsome and unbelievably scary, and he and McKay already have a working relationship. Actually, now that I think about it, Gosling was looking a little Rileyish in The Big Short:

Paramount Pictures

Baumann: Matthew Goode.

Almeida: I’m sorry. It’s Jude Law. It can’t be anybody else. Young Pope, Young Dumbledore, Young Coach. Somebody pass the hair gel.

Devine: The McKay connection immediately makes you think of Christian Bale, who’s got some experience playing a slicked-back designer-suit ’80s type (albeit one with a slightly darker side than Riles); and casting him would be in keeping with HBO’s love for casting movie stars in major roles in big projects. Barring that ... um ... some creative editing to just splice in footage of Michael Douglas in Wall Street? I mostly just watch basketball; I am bad at actors. (That said, say it with me: “Scoot McNairy is Kurt Rambis.”)

Gonzalez: Pat Riley. Give him the Samuel L. Jackson–in–Captain Marvel throwback CGI treatment and a vat of Brylcreem for his hair and let the man cook.

3. Who should play Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

Gonzalez: Same answer here as the Pat Riley one, minus the Brylcreem.

Baumann: Kareem, in the anti-aging CGI effect from Tron: Legacy.

Almeida: Uh … yeah, somebody more creative than me is going to have to figure this one out. Maybe find somebody young and unknown and pull the Tom Cruise–standing-on-a-box trick?

Devine: Common. Oh, you think it can’t work? Well, A.I. unlocks the art of science, and I’m sure that there’s an algorithm that can turn the man who made “The Light” into a 7-foot-2 scoring legend/future Veronica Mars writers room occupier.

Gruttadaro: There’s a rule in Hollywood currently in effect that if your show or movie contains basketball, Melvin Gregg must be in it, so … him.

4. How much basketball will actually be in this show? How much basketball should be in this show?

Devine: Not nearly as much as there will be; significantly more than there should be. But hey, maybe cable networks have gotten better at depicting on-court action since The Hoop Life. (That’s two truly iconic shows I’ve referenced in my answers now.)

Almeida: There will be a lot, but there should be none. Dramatic depictions of sports are usually rough, especially when trying to adhere to real-life happenings. Let’s not worry about trying to re-create the on-court magic; it’s not going to work. Off-court Magic is what we’re here to see anyway, right?

Gruttadaro: We’re probably better off with as little actual basketball as possible. This isn’t Friday Night Lights, nor should it try to be.

Baumann: Too much basketball will be in this show. There should be zero basketball in the show. If I want to watch Showtime Lakers highlights I can go on YouTube, and every second wasted on re-creations of game action is a second we can’t spend on Ryan Murphy–style too-expensive-to-be-outright-trashy docudrama re-creations.

Gonzalez: I honestly do not care. Just fast-forward me to the part where James Worthy gets busted in a prostitution sting in Houston.

5. What behind-the-scenes Lakers story deserves its own episode?

Devine: I’m going to need at least one full episode devoted to the making of the seminal made-for-CBS 1990 film Laker Girls, starring Tina Yothers. I think we all need to know how that happened and what role it played in the life cycle of “Showtime.”

Gonzalez: Jerry Buss partying at the Playboy Mansion with Hugh Hefner. Either followed or preceded by an entire A.C. Green episode. For balance.

Baumann: I would love a montage on how Rambis’s look came together, set to Journey’s “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.”

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.