Note: This interview was conducted prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike and contains spoilers for Winning Time Season 2, Episode 5
In Sunday’s episode of HBO’s “Winning Time,” Kareem Abdul-Jabarr (Solomon Hughes) confronts Lakers owner Jerry Buss in a roller rink, accusing him of taking advantage of Magic Johnson (Quincy Isaiah).
To prepare for the confrontation, Hughes told TheWrap that he would sneak onto set with the show’s basketball assistant director Derek DiBiagio to learn how to roller skate.
“He generously brought his skates to work just about every day and we would sneak onto the set and roller skate on the court and it was like a month of learning,” Hughes recalled. “I learned early on, ‘you’re gonna get this scene with John C. Reilly and by the way, you’re gonna be on roller skates’ and I’m like ‘Oh, ok. All right.’ So that was fun because it’s an intense scene.”
In addition to learning how to roller skate, Hughes admitted it was “challenging” to get back in “basketball shape” for the series.
“I played in college and then I played, I would say, 3.5 years after college, but my career ended in 2005. So it’d been a long time since I played competitively … so I definitely had my work cut out for me,” he explained. “But that kind of put a lot of us on the same level because some of the actors hadn’t really played before. So we were all coming from a place where there was improvements that needed to be made.”
Abdul-Jabarr played 20 seasons in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers and became a record six-time NBA Most Valuable Player during his career as a center.
“It was incredibly humbling, very challenging, but also a lot of fun digging into the character, putting on the costume, wearing the great No. 33, the goggles, all that,” Hughes said. “I think there’s so many interesting things about his life.”
Hughes said he was “really intrigued” by Abdul Jabarr’s life in Harlem and influences, such as his loves for journalism and jazz music.
“I actually had a conversation with Winton Marcellus about jazz music and it was one of the coolest conversations I’ve ever had in my life,” he added. “So the research was very rewarding.”
In addition to Hughes and Reilly, the series stars Quincy Isaiah, Adrien Brody, Jason Clarke, Gaby Hoffmann, Jason Segel, Hadley Robinson, Sean Patrick Small, DeVaughn Nixon, Tamera Tomakili, Brett Cullen, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Spencer Garrett, Molly Gordon, Joey Brooks, Delante Desouza, Jimel Atkins, Austin Aaron, McCabe Slye, Thomas Mann, Gillian Jacobs, Michael Chiklis and Rob Morgan.
“Winning Time” is executive produced by Adam McKay and Kevin Messick for Hyperobject Industries, showrunner, writer, and co-creator Max Borenstein, writer and co-creator Jim Hecht, director Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Scott Stephens, Rodney Barnes and Jason Shuman.
“Winning Time” airs on HBO and streams on Max on Sunday evenings.