By Stuart Miller
March 3, 2022
Since the Magic Johnson era, the Los Angeles Lakers have been inseparable from Hollywood. So it’s only fitting that HBO’s new series “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,” which premieres on March 6th, put together a high-profile roster that includes executive producer Adam McKay and a cast that includes John C. Reilly (Jerry Buss), Sally Field (Jessie Buss), Adrien Brody (Pat Riley), Tracy Letts (Jack McKinney), Jason Segal (Paul Westhead), Jason Clarke (Jerry West), Wood Harris (Spencer Haywood) Gaby Hoffman (Claire Rothman) and Michael Chiklis (Red Auerbach).
But the heavily stylized and wildly entertaining adaptation of Jeff Pearlman’s book, “Showtime” – like the Lakers themselves – can only go so far as Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can take them. Those two are portrayed by unknowns, Quincy Isaiah, who plays Johnson, and Solomon Hughes, who makes his debut as his one-time idol Abdul-Jabbar. (He devoured Abdul-Jabbar’s autobiography when he was growing up.)
But while Hughes is a rookie actor at age 43, he’s the only one of the major characters with legitimate basketball chops, starting with his days as a star at Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance. (His team got torched by Jason Segal’s high school team — which also featured future NBA players Jason and Jarron Collins — but Hughes says Segal didn’t remember playing him. “‘Of course,’ I said, ‘We were just one of the many teams you bulldozed,’” Hughes recalls telling his castmate.)
Hughes was then starting center at the University of California, Berkeley and played professionally in second-tier leagues like the USBL and Mexico’s pro league. He even joined the Harlem Globetrotters.
Still, Hughes, who found out about the auditions from a college teammate, “had not played ball in a long time and was grateful that basketball wasn’t part of the auditions.”
It’s the other half of his background that made Hughes especially suited to capturing the gravitas and intellectual intensity of Abdul-Jabbar. Hughes, whose father once chaired the Sociology Department at Cal State Fullerton, is a more legitimate owner of the title Doctor than Julius “Dr. J” Erving, who appears in the series as one of the Lakers’ key rivals. After getting a master’s at Berkeley, Hughes earned a Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Georgia.
Hughes has been Assistant Director of the EDGE Doctoral Fellowship Program (Enhancing Diversity in Graduation Education) at Stanford and most recently was a visiting lecturer at Duke University’s Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity.
Hughes spoke by video recently about rooting for the Lakers, studying Abdul-Jabbar’s personal story and, of course, the Laker legend’s famed skyhook. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.