Antoine Fuqua and Jeanie Buss on Kobe Bryant, Their New Lakers Docseries for Hulu and the Problems With HBO’s ‘Winning Time’

Antoine Fuqua wants people to know the truth about the Los Angeles Lakers franchise, which is one of the reasons he directed and executive produced the upcoming 10-part Hulu docuseries “Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers.”

The series, which launches on Aug. 15, is the latest in a flurry of programming about the NBA dynasty.

When HBO’s “Winning Time: Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,” an Adam McKay executive-produced scripted drama about the Magic Johnson-era of the Lakers, debuted in March, it drew criticism from some of those depicted for taking too many creative liberties. Former star player and general manager Jerry West demanded a legal retraction for how the series portrayed him, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called it “deliberately dishonest.” Johnson, subject of Apple TV+s “They Call Me Magic” docuseries in April, also criticized the series, telling Variety, “You can’t do a story about the Lakers without the Lakers… the real Lakers.” The HBO series is an adaptation of Jeff Pearlman’s 2014 nonfiction bestseller, “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.”

“Winning Time” critics Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, and West are among the 75 people Fuqua, a long-time Lakers fan, interviewed for the Hulu series. Lakers CEO and controlling owner Jeanie Buss executive produced the project.

“‘Winning Time’ is not legit as far as the truth or giving you any real insight on who the people really were and are,” says Fuqua. “It’s just sort of caricatures and made-up, exaggerated stories, which is fine in the entertainment world, but it’s not the truth. I’m very happy that Jeanie and the Laker organization (asked me) to do this so that we can get the truth out. Also, it’s important to the fans.”

Fuqua’s docuseries chronicles the rise and success of the Lakers after Jerry Buss, Jeanie’s father, acquired the team in 1979. The series also delves into the Buss family drama following the death of the elder Buss in 2013.

Although Fuqua was reluctant to talk about it, the series will also focus on former LA Lakers’ player Kobe Bryant, who died in a 2020 helicopter crash along with his daughter Giana.

“It’s a very powerful discussion about the tragic loss of Kobe and Giana Bryant,” Buss says about the episode.

She and Fuqua spoke to Variety in July, when the producer was still finetuning “Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers” and the Bryant episode, discussing rival shows about the team and John C. Reilly’s performance as the elder Buss.

The Lakers have been in the spotlight quite a bit in the last several months. HBO’s “Winning Time” was followed by Apple TV+’s Magic Johnson docuseries “The Call Me Magic.” What do you think is behind all the attention?

Fuqua: We are at a point in time where a lot of great players, like Magic, want to leave the legacy of their lives behind. (A legacy) that is told from their perspective.

Jeanie, what did you think of HBO’s “Winning Time”?

Buss: “That was entertainment that wasn’t based on a lot of truth, but it was entertaining for some people. I think John C. Reilly playing Dr. Jerry Buss — he should have been nominated for an Emmy.

Jeanie, why was it important to you to make this docuseries?

Buss: This (series) tries to give context to the people who were behind some of these great Lakers’ moments. While it does have a lot of Buss family information, it has a lot about our players and what they bring to the table, especially players that you don’t hear a lot about. The Lakers had so much success in the eighties and then again 2000s, but the ‘90s was kind of a challenging time. I think fans will be happy to hear from Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones about what it was like to be part of the Lakers after Showtime ends.

You conducted over 75 interviews. Did anyone say no when you called and asked them to sit down?

Fuqua: Everyone we called absolutely showed up and was enthusiastic about it and loved talking about Dr. Buss and the Lakers organization and what it meant to them.

How did you decide on making the series 10-episodes?

Fuqua: We could have made it 15. There’s a lot on the floor. But we knew going in there was a structure to it. It starts off as family. Then it gets into the business and what the business can do to family, and then it gets back to family, which is what the Lakers organization is about. So that’s the structure. We knew going in that that was our journey. So that helped us stay on track and streamline it.

What will audiences be most surprised about learning after watching this series?

Buss: I think just hearing the human side of what sports does to us. (Sports stars) are still people with emotions, and yes, you win and lose on the court, but there’s an aftermath. In this series, the players can look back at it with some perspective. To share that with the fans is rich content for people.

At one point in the series, the Buss family drama is compared to HBO’s “Succession.” Jeanie, what was it like to put your family’s dirty laundry out there for all to see?

Buss: I think everybody can relate to family drama because at some level, we’re all involved in a family, and sometimes things aren’t always smooth and pretty. But it’s a story that is true and happened. Every one of my siblings had an opportunity to tell from their perspective how they felt about my dad’s passing and what his expectation was for us with (regards to) the team. So if people want to compare it to “Succession,” they can, but it’s our truth.

Fuqua: They were all very open and very generous with their time. It was a pleasant experience for all of us because there weren’t any hard feelings during the process (of filming). But it’s always difficult to ask someone about their family business. I can’t imagine the pressure to have difficulty within your family while you’re under a spotlight and everyone has an opinion about it.

Antoine, did you have final cut?

Fuqua: It’s funny. Normally in movies, I think about that. With this one, I didn’t think about that. We just did it together. We put it together, talked about it, looked at the moments, and kept moving. I never dreamt of doing a documentary about the Lakers, so it’s just been an amazing experience. There are always tough days. You talk about tough subjects, and emotional subjects, but overall, we just did it together.

Jeanie, was anything off limits?

Buss: There really isn’t any part of this story that I feel that we tried to hide. This is truth-telling. There are messy parts to it, and that’s what makes it a human story.

Will Kobe Bryant be the focus of one of the episodes?

Fuqua: Yes. He is.

Can you tell me anything about that? I think people are going to be anxious to see that episode. Did you interview his widow or any of his family members?

Fuqua: We are in the process of those conversations right now.

So, you are still editing the series?

Fuqua: Yes. We are in the last few weeks, right down to the wire.

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