Michael Chiklis on Setting Up the Jerry Buss, Red Auerbach Rivalry in HBO’s ‘Winning Time’

The actor tells TheWrap about playing the legendary Boston Celtics coach

John C. Reilly and Michael Chiklis as Jerry Buss and Red Auerbach in "Winning Time" (HBO)
John C. Reilly and Michael Chiklis as Jerry Buss and Red Auerbach in "Winning Time" (HBO)

Michael Chiklis got to show off his Boston pride in Sunday night’s episode of HBO’s “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,” stepping into the shoes of former Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach, a legend in the NBA. And although the drama is about the emergence of the showtime Lakers, joining the series wasn’t a tough sell.

“No ‘cause I’m repping Boston. I’m repping home … and that’s my pride. I hate that my dad isn’t alive to see this because he would adore this,” Chiklis told TheWrap. “And I knew that at least initially, they would have me sort of portrayed as the villain in this, but I look at [Red] as a principal antagonist. And that’s fine because guess what? If you played against Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics you were antagonized.”

In Sunday night’s episode of “Winning Time,” John C. Reilly’s Jerry Buss character attempts to impress Auerbach during a dinner outing, only for Auerbach to see through his Hollywood puffery and call him out.

As the episode closes, the pair meet at the Forum in Los Angeles, where Auerbach goes in hoping that Buss has reconsidered his offer to take some of the players off of the Lakers’ hands for his Boston Celtics. It quickly leads to a verbal tit for tat, with Auerbach attempting to put Buss down again, only for Reilly’s character to respond by saying he needs to cut out Auerbach’s heart, beat him with it, and do that again and again each year (in the NBA). It’s that dramatic moment full of male bravado and arrogance that really sets up conflict between the two men for years (and hopefully seasons) to come.

“There’s so many reasons for me to want to be involved in this [show], but then, to be able to play nuanced amazing scenes like that with someone like John C. Reilly? That’s fun stuff. And I think that in that scene, yeah, if he comes off arrogantly it’s because – and I think it’s a miscalculation on his part, but he looks at this guy [Buss] … Red represents the orthodoxy, the standard. He’s the establishment. Right? He grew up steeped in the tradition, he played basketball, coached basketball,” Chiklis said.

“And in comes this, talk about a swaggering guy with leisure suits on, [un]buttoned down to his navel, you know, with the keys to the Playboy Mansion? You didn’t take him seriously,” he continued. “It’s like, ‘Get out of here, man. You can buy one once in a while, but you can’t talk to me about dynasties. Get the f— out of here.’ So, I think that he just miscalculated a little bit.”

As Chiklis sees it, Auerbach’s dismissal of Buss helped fuel the Lakers owner’s fire.

“Also, I think that the way he treated him lit a fire into Buss’s ass to say, you know, I’m gonna beat this guy. And boom, there we go,” Chiklis said. “One other thing, I don’t think at any other time in the history of sports, could you have this sort of rivalry tip off the way it was because of the sex, drugs and rock and roll, and Jerry Buss … bridging the gap between entertainment and sport.”

“Winning Time” continues Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.