In March, HBO released its newest series, Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, and it turns out, NBA icon and Los Angeles Lakers legend Jerry West was not happy about it. 

Skip Miller, West’s attorney, declared the depiction of his character in the series “cruel” and “deliberately false,” and is demanding a retraction within two weeks of April 19, 2022. 

“The portrayal of… West …is fiction pretending to be fact—a deliberately false characterization that has caused great distress to Jerry and his family,” Miller said in a statement. “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.” 

The series shows how the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers created the team’s “Showtime” era with the help of rookie Earvin “Magic” Johnson and veteran Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, bringing Buss’ revolutionary vision of mixing athleticism with showmanship. 

According to West, who spoke with the LA Times at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival, which was premiering the documentary film about Lakers teammate Dick Barnett titled The Dream Whisperer, he was looking forward to watching a nice and accurate and positive depiction of himself.  

In the HBO series, West, played by Jason Clarke, is a hot-tempered, foul-mouthed executive who gives in to furious tantrums and mood swings.

“You replaced the real Jerry West—a consummate professional—with his polar opposite, then portrayed this lie to the public as genuine,” West and Miller wrote in the letter. “You thereby violated the law.” 

The letter also contains testimonials from former Lakers Michael Cooper and Jamaal Wilkes, former Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak (the current president of the Charlotte Hornets), and others who found the characterization of Jerry to be “egregious and cruel.” 

“The series made us all [the Lakers] look like cartoon characters,” West told the LA Times. “They belittled something good. If I have to, I will take this all the way to the Supreme Court.” 

This letter comes on the heels of a blistering essay by Abdul-Jabbar, who called Winning Time “boring” and “deliberately dishonest.”

Abdul-Jabbar wrote, “The characters are cured stick-figure representations that resemble real people the way Lego Hans [sic] Solo resembles Harrison Ford. Each character is reduced to a single bold trait as if the writers were afraid anything more complex would tax the viewers’ comprehension. Jerry Buss is Egomaniac Entrepreneur, Jerry West is a Crazed Coach, Magic Johnson is Sexual Simpleton, I’m a Pompous P–. They are caricatures, not characters.” 

Adam McKay and the show’s other producers have said that the series was extensively researched and that the project was developed out of admiration and love for the Lakers.

Winning Time is not a documentary and has not been presented as such,” HBO said in a statement on Tuesday. “However, the series and its depictions are based on extensive factual research and reliable sourcing.” 

However accurate or inaccurate HBO’s portrayals of these characters are, West and several others are unhappy and demand to see something change. It is hard to say if their characters will be removed from the series since Winning Time has already been released to the public and is fictionalized work, but there is a strong chance that HBO won’t bend to West’s will. 

We will keep you updated if West decides to take HBO to court, and how the future of real-life portrayals in fictionalized work could change.

Source: LA Times