HBO is firing back against criticisms of its Lakers drama series “Winning Time.” The show has come under fire by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West, two Lakers veterans who are prominently featured as characters in the HBO series. Both men have taken issue with how “Winning Time” portrays Lakes coach West, played by Jason Clarke in the show. The real West has demanded a legal retraction from HBO over what he views as “a deliberately false characterization” and a “baseless portrayal.”
“HBO has a long history of producing compelling content drawn from actual facts and events that are fictionalized in part for dramatic purposes,” the network said in a statement. “‘Winning Time’ is not a documentary and has not been presented as such. However, the series and its depictions are based on extensive factual research and reliable sourcing, and HBO stands resolutely behind our talented creators and cast who have brought a dramatization of this epic chapter in basketball history to the screen.”
West’s legal team sent a letter on April 19 to “Winning Time” executive producer Adam McKay, HBO and Warner Bros.-Discovery stating that the series has “caused great distress to Jerry and his family.” The latter added: “You took a happy and super successful Lakers era and turned it into a pulpy soap opera. You depicted the people in a false light, not at all who they are, to garner ratings and make money.”
The letter also included testimony from individuals who worked alongside West at the time, including words from Claire Rothman (played by Gaby Hoffman on the show) and Abdul-Jabbar (played by Solomon Hughes). The latter published a blog post on April 19 slamming “Winning Time” as boring, shallow and “deliberately dishonest.” Abdul-Jabbar wrote “it was a shame” how the show treated West.
“[Jerry] has openly discussed his struggle with mental health, especially depression,” Abdul-Jabbar writes. “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.”
“Winning Time” is currently in the middle of airing its first season. The show has been renewed for a second season.