Add NBA legend Jerry West to the list of Los Angeles Lakers icons who are mad about HBO’s dramedy “Winning Time.” Through his attorneys, the star player-turned-baseball executive connected to some of the best team rosters in NBA history demanded a retraction and an apology for how he’s being portrayed on the show.
Based on the nonfiction book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s” by Jeff Pearlman, “Winning Time” tells the story of the groundbreaking “Showtime” era of the Lakers. The period dramatically changed Basketball with emphasis on fast-paced, entertaining play and an entertainment venue atmosphere at home games, and was dominated by the Lakers-Celtics rivalry.
West, played by Jason Clarke on the show, is depicted as dedicated to the Lakers but tightly wound and frequently angry during the 1979-1980 basketball season covered in the show’s first season. And the real West objects rather strongly to that.
“The portrayal of NBA icon and LA Lakers legend Jerry West in ‘Winning Time’ is fiction pretending to be fact — a deliberately false characterization that has caused great distress to Jerry and his family. Contrary to the baseless portrayal in the HBO series, Jerry had nothing but love for and harmony with the Lakers organization, and in particular owner Dr. Jerry Buss, during an era in which he assembled one of the greatest teams in NBA history,” Skip Miller, a partner at the Miller Barondess, LLP law firm in Los Angeles and attorney for West, said in a statement on behalf of West.
“Jerry West was an integral part of the Lakers and NBA’s success. It is a travesty that HBO has knowingly demeaned him for shock value and the pursuit of ratings. As an act of common decency, HBO and the producers owe Jerry a public apology and at the very least should retract their baseless and defamatory portrayal of him,” the statement continues.
Of course, they show doesn’t actually depict West as anything but “an integral part of the Lakers and the NBA’s success.” In fact, the first season of “Winning Time” presents an arc in which West is clearly developing into the team executive who helped change the sport forever. But it also does depict West as frustrated and hot tempered to the point that he breaks personal property in fits of rage.
That was called out for particular criticism by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who in addition to a harsh critique of the show published earlier Tuesday, wrote a statement included in the letter from West’s attorneys. “Instead of exploring his issues with compassion as a way to better understand the man, they turn him into a Wile E. Coyote cartoon to be laughed at. He never broke golf clubs, he didn’t throw his trophy through the window. Sure, those actions make dramatic moments, but they reek of facile exploitation of the man rather than exploration of character,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.
Other Lakers figures taking issue with how West is portrayed include former players Michael Cooper and Jamaal Wilkes, and employees Claire Rothman, Charlene Kenney, Bob Steiner and Mitch Kupchak.
West’s lawyers say that the portrayal is “false” and “malice.” “You omit any reference to Jerry being one of the most accomplished and well-regarded NBA executives in history. Instead, you degrade him by exaggerating his urging the Lakers not to draft Magic Johnson. Contrary to the show, the book leaves readers with the true impression of Jerry as a brilliant and thoughtful GM,” they say.
While they haven’t filed a lawsuit, the attorneys say that West is owed an apology and a retraction, and possible damages, according to ESPN.
Of course it’s worth noting that the end of every episode of “Winning Time” includes a disclaimer explaining that is “is a dramatization of certain facts and events,” and that “some events and characters have been fictionalized, modified or composited for dramatic purposes.”
Representatives for HBO didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap.