The Lakers helped turn the N.B.A. from a fringe sports league into a titan, which set the stage for Jordan and, later, Kobe Bryant to help make the game a global phenomenon. As McKay put it, the Lakers “changed fashion, music, the way people behaved, the way they spoke.”
“It’s an explosion that just rarely happens in any form of culture,” he continued, “let alone sports.”
Along with Bird, Johnson became a star unlike any basketball player before. He and Bird appeared in TV commercials together and clocked huge endorsement deals. When Johnson — a heterosexual athlete who was averaging 12.5 assists and 19.4 points a game — announced in 1991 that he had H.I.V. and was retiring, it sent shock waves around the world. Pau Gasol, a native of Spain, said he had been so inspired by Johnson’s news conference that he vowed as a boy to find a cure for H.I.V. Instead, he became an N.B.A. All-Star, who helped lead the Lakers to multiple championships.
Some of the key figures in the story have said publicly that they aren’t happy with the show, including Johnson. (Neither the central figures portrayed nor the Lakers organization were involved in the production.) In an email, a spokeswoman for Abdul-Jabbar described the series as “based on a fictional account taken from a book” written by “an outsider,” adding that Abdul-Jabbar had not seen the show and that “the story is best told by those who lived it.”
Jeanie Buss, the controlling owner of the Lakers and the daughter of Jerry Buss, who died in 2013, is executive producing a documentary series about the franchise for Hulu, set to debut this year. Johnson is developing one about his own life for Apple. (Spokespeople for Johnson and the Lakers declined to comment.)
“If I was Kareem to Magic or any of those guys, and I looked at it personally, like they’re telling my story, it would probably feel weird to me, too,” Rodney Barnes, an executive producer and writer of the show, said. But the creative team wanted to tell a story about everything that period encompassed, he added — about not only the Lakers but also “America as a whole.”
And their story would hardly be the last take on the Showtime Lakers, Barnes acknowledged.
“There’s still a lot of meat on that bone,” he said.