Jerry West Demands Retraction for ‘Deliberately False’ Portrayal in HBO’s ‘Winning Time’

Los Angeles Lakers legend and NBA icon Jerry West has declared the portrayal of himself in HBO’s drama series “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” as “a deliberately false characterization” and a “baseless portrayal.”

In a letter issued to executive producer Adam McKay, as well as HBO and its parent company Warner Bros.-Discovery, on Tuesday, West’s attorneys state that the series has “caused great distress to Jerry and his family,” demanding a legal retraction from HBO within two weeks.

“Winning Time,” which was recently renewed for a second season by HBO, follows the Los Angeles Lakers at the beginning of the “Showtime” era in the 1980’s, a legacy led by players such as Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as well as leaders within the basketball organization such as Jerry Buss and Pat Riley. Jerry West is played by Jason Clarke in the series, who portrays West as a fiery executive agitated by his multiple NBA Finals losses as a player.

“You took a happy and super successful Lakers era and turned it into a pulpy soap opera,” reads the letter. “You depicted the people in a false light, not at all who they are, to garner ratings and make money.”

The letter also contains testimony from individuals who worked alongside West at the time, including words from Claire Rothman and Abdul-Jabbar — both of whom are also portrayed on the series, by Gaby Hoffmann and Solomon Hughes, respectively.

HBO could not be immediately reached for comment.

West’s legal action comes only hours after Abdul-Jabbar offered his own criticism of the series through his personal blog, in which he also distinguished West from his portrayal in the series.

“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,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “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.”

Read the full statement from Skip Miller, Jerry West’s attorney and L.A.’s Miller Barondess, LLP law firm, below:

“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.

“HBO’s characterization of Jerry is so egregious and cruel that a number of former Lakers players, executives and associates — some who are also portrayed in the series and worked directly with him for many years — have weighed in:

  • Michael Cooper, former Laker forward who worked closely with Jerry West as Special Assistant to the General Manager.
  • Jamaal Wilkes, four-time NBA champion and former Laker forward.
  • Mitch Kupchak, Charlotte Hornets President who played for the Lakers and worked for Jerry when he was Lakers General Manager.
  • Frank Mariani, Lakers owner Dr. Buss’s longtime business partner.
  • Claire L. Rothman, one of Dr. Buss’s closest associates who ran operations at The Forum for 20 years.
  • Bob Steiner, former director of public relations for the Lakers, LA Kings and The Forum, as well as personal assistant to Dr. Buss.
  • Charline Kenney, Dr. Buss’s executive secretary, who worked in the office with Jerry for 20 years.
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who played for Jerry as his coach and also worked with Jerry in the Lakers front office.

“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.”  

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