HBO’s upcoming series centered around the Showtime Lakers has big names behind (Adam McKay is producing and will direct the pilot) and in front of the camera (John C. Reilly is set to play Jerry Buss, having taken over for Michael Shannon.)
Now, the show (still untitled; it’s based on Jeff Pearlman’s book Showtime but obviously that name doesn’t really work for an HBO series) has reportedly cast two vital roles: Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. McKay and HBO have chosen to go with some lesser-known faces.
Newcomer Quincy Isaiah and former UC Berkeley basketball captain Solomon Hughes have been cast as Hall of Fame teammates Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, respectively, in Adam McKay‘s HBO drama pilot about the Showtime-era Lakers.
The casting notes also give us some insight into the direction the show will be taking:
Johnson will be depicted as both gifted and magnetic, revolutionizing the sport of basketball with his captivating, fast-paced style of play, all while his style of celebrity transformed the social fabric of the culture.
Abdul-Jabbar will be depicted as a sensitive and intelligent political activist whose introverted nature often led him to be misunderstood, not only by the public, but by his own teammates. When Magic joins the Lakers, the rookie point guard helps re-inspire Kareem’s love of the game.
Playing famous people is always difficult, and playing famous athletes is even harder. Not only does the entire audience of the show know how Magic and Kareem look and talk, they also probably have an idea how they played on the court. Assuming the show is going to have some basketball scenes, that’s going to be important. The actors don’t have to be NBA-caliber athletes, of course, but they need to be good enough to not take viewers out of the show. (Basically it can’t be Matt Damon in Bagger Vance or Freddie Prinze Jr. in Summer Catch.)
To that end, Hughes, at least, is a former D-1 basketball player, and presumably Isaiah is qualified on this front as well.
Isaiah is an actor from Muskegon, Michigan and a recent drama school graduate. As for Hughes, he served as the captain of the University of California Berkeley men’s basketball team, and during his junior season led the Pac-12 in field goal percentage. He also played professionally in the USBL and ABA, and served as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters, though he has always enjoyed performing for friends and family.
Considering the talent involved, it’s likely this is going to end up going to series, at which point it will presumably have an actual title.