Jerry West believes he has been wronged by the way he has been depicted in HBO’s “Winning Time” series about the 1980s Showtime Lakers and he wants it made right.
The Hall of Famer and his legal team sent a letter to HBO and the show’s producer Adam McKay. The letter, which was obtained by ESPN, demanded an apology, a retraction and damages from the network. It claims the show has made a “baseless” and “malicious assault” on the character of the former Lakers player, coach and executive. It asks for a retraction, no later than two weeks from the receipt of the letter, and a public apology.
“The portrayal of NBA icon and L.A. 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,” Skip Miller, an attorney for West, said according to ESPN.
The letter said “Winning Time” falsely and cruelly portrays West, who played 14 seasons for the Lakers and coached them for three, as an out-of-control and rage-filled drunk.
According to ESPN, West’s legal team believes HBO’s disclaimer on the series calling it a “dramatization” doesn’t insulate the network from liability. The show, which has aired on Sundays since March 6, is based on Jeff Pearlman’s book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.” West’s legal team said that because the incidences of rage shown in “Winning Time” do not appear in Pearlman’s book, the show has acted with “legal malice.”
“Jerry West was an integral part of the Lakers and NBA’s success,” Miller said. “It is a travesty that HBO has knowingly demeaned him for shock value and the pursuit of ratings.”
The letter included statements from several former Lakers players, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and top team brass such as Claire Rothman, who ran the Great Western Forum, and Mitch Kupchak, a Lakers player in the early 1980s and later West’s assistant general manager.
Abdul-Jabbar described the depiction of West as “a Wile E. Coyote cartoon to be laughed at” and said West never broke golf clubs or threw a trophy through a window, both of which are depicted in the show. Rothman described West as someone who treated her with “dignity and respect” and denied ever seeing fits of rage from him.
West’s lawyers also attempted to set the record straight about their client’s role in the Lakers’ decision to draft Magic Johnson first overall in 1979. They, according to ESPN, claimed the series denigrates West (who is played by Jason Clarke) by showing him go on profanity-filed tirades, implying he tried to sabotage the Lakers’ selection of Johnson and that he had a personal issue with the eventual five-time NBA champion and fellow Hall of Famer.
According to his lawyers, West, who was a team scout at the time of the 1979 NBA Draft, did tell the Lakers they should consider Sidney Moncrief (who went fifth overall to the Bucks) with the No. 1-overall pick because of his scoring ability, but the ultimate decision was made by owner Jack Kent Cooke.
West, who became Lakers GM in 1982, was the top executive for eight NBA championship teams — six with the Lakers and two with the Golden State Warriors — and was named NBA Executive of the Year twice. According to ESPN, his legal team believes West’s success as an executive has been glossed over by the series and he instead has been depicted as a “clueless bumpkin wearing a fishing hat to practice,” which they claim did not happen.
West’s depiction in the show has become a hot topic of conversation. Longtime Celtics beat writer Bob Ryan took issue with it while on Colin Cowherd’s podcast earlier this week. He said the way West has been presented in the show was “unrealistic” and “embarrassing”
Pearlman took issue with Ryan’s comments on Twitter, noting that the show is not a documentary and that the creative liberties taken by HBO are no different than those in other sports films.
“Truth be told, the show is reminding people of Showtime’s greatness, and evoking rich memories of a glorious time in NBA history,” Pearlman tweeted Monday. “Are the characters exact fits? No. They’re (wait for it) actors using (wait for it) scripts written by (wait for it) writers. And the writing is insanely sharp, smart, cool.”
Ryan was unmoved by Pearlman’s response tweeting that “gullible people” will see the depiction as fact and the portrayal of West is “reprehensible and borderline criminal.”
“His three words to Adam McKay should be ‘See my lawyer,’ ” Ryan wrote.
West appears to have agreed.