How good does the story need to be for it to be told again and again?
That’s sort of the central question, even if it’s not intended, of “Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers.”
For the third time since March, a television series will tackle Jerry Buss’ purchase of the Lakers, the injection of celebrity culture into sports and the Lakers’ return to the pinnacle of the NBA.
“I want the truth to be known,” said Lakers owner Jeanie Buss.
She is an executive producer of the project, which gains instant credibility in its first episode when it becomes clear that her entire family, including her brother, former president of basketball operations Jim Buss, participated in the series, which premieres Monday on Hulu.
It’s on this ground where “Legacy” tries to stand apart.
“I want everybody to have an opportunity to tell their experience. Because I know, from my point of view, what I saw and experienced,” Jeanie Buss said. “But I really have enjoyed listening to what it was like for former players being on this team. I even learned a lot through this process. And I want Laker fans, who know the wins and the losses, I want them to see the other side, the toll of losing, the toll of winning. … It’s not all just about championships and highlight film. It’s about the people who lived the story and their truth.”
While those involved swear the docuseries isn’t a reaction to “Winning Time” — a dramatized pseudo-history of the Showtime Lakers — that HBO show is now an inescapable point of reference for any retelling of the story of the early-1980s Lakers because it was the first to market. (Shortly thereafter, Apple TV+ released “They Call Me Magic,” which focuses on the early days of Magic Johnson’s career with the Lakers, coincidingwith Jerry Buss buying the team.)
“You have to remember [there’s] a lot of misinformation as well, there’s TV shows and other things out there that are not correct,” “Legacy” director Antoine Fuqua said. “So to hear from the people who actually lived it, the people that ran and run the organization, the players who’ve been through it, their stories. You know, people forget, all these people are human beings, with family and a lot of emotion, a lot of pressure. … There’s a lot going on behind the scenes.”
And to compete with an extant docuseries and a buzzy scripted drama (the latter of which was met with plenty of derision from the Lakers, notably franchise legend Jerry West), “Legacy” has to bring something new to the table if it’s going to break through. In its case, those advantages are the participation of the key players in the saga and a wider narrative scope.
“This is all people who were there,” said former Laker Norm Nixon.
Late in July, more than a dozen of the film’s participants showed up at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo to promote the series. Among them? NBA all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hall of Famers James Worthy, Vlade Divac and Jamaal Wilkes all lending their blessing to the series.
It was the kind of flex no other project could dream of without the Lakers’ stamp of approval. (The team’s logo even appears in the final credits.)
“If we finished our careers, and I’m talking about myself, not being part of the Lakers, it would be a big hole in my career missing,” Divac said.
While “Winning Time” used Jeff Pearlman’s book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s” as its primary text, “Legacy” is the official story. And depending on how you view things, that’s a strength and a weakness.
Maybe it’s a good time for the organization to be looking backward, with the future threatening to get even uglier after the Lakers missed the playoffs in 2022, the seventh time since 2014
After all, celebrating the past can be a distraction from present woes. But that doesn’t mean the series papers over challenging moments in the franchise’s history.
For Jeanie Buss, “Legacy” has meant reliving not only the highs from the four-plus decades of her family’s ownership, but also some painful lows, including the deaths of Kobe Bryant and Jerry Buss, the shock of Magic Johnson’s HIV diagnosis and the messy untangling of family interests that ended with Jeanie Buss ousting her brother Jim from a role in the organization’s front office.
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And while it’s unclear how the series will handle allegations of sexual assault against Bryant, those involved with the project maintain that truth is the guiding directive.
“People came to it with a very open heart,” Fuqua said. “Everyone talked about the difficult conversations, the difficult things, the difficult moments, the loss of incredible people. So I was surprised by it. … No one said no. Over 75 interviews and they all came and spoke their mind.”
“We don’t hold back,” Jeanie Buss said. “This is our story.”