May 24, 2022

Jerry West says HBO’s ‘Winning Time’ is a ‘deliberately false characterization’


Former Los Angeles Lakers player and executive Jerry West has, through his legal counsel, demanded a retraction from HBO, Warner Bros. Discovery and producer Adam McKay for their portrayal of West in the HBO series “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.”

“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,”West’s attorney, Skip Miller, partner at Miller Barondess, LLP, 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.”

In alengthy letter, Miller’s firm asked for a retraction “no later than two weeks from the date of this letter,” which is dated April 19.The letter also asked for an apology.

The letter says the series depicts West as “as an out-of-control, intoxicated rage-aholic. The Jerry West in Winning Time bears no resemblance to the real man. The real Jerry West prided himself on treating people with dignity and respect. Winning Time is a baseless and malicious assault on Jerry West’s character. You reduced the legacy of an 83-year-old legend and role model to that of a vulgar and unprofessional bully — the polar opposite of the real man.”

West, a Basketball Hall of Famer who took winning and losing seriously, played 14 seasons with the Lakers and was an All-Star in each season.

In nine Finals appearances, West’s Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics six times and the New York Knicks two times. West and the Lakers defeated the Knicks in the 1972 Finals. He was 0-7 in the Finals before finally winning a title. West was named one of the NBA’s greatest 75 players this season.

After his playing days, West coached the Lakers briefly and then moved to the front office, where he created the “Showtime Lakers” led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy and coached by Pat Riley.

The anger about West’s portrayal has been brewing among his friends, associates and those who covered West as a player and executive. Longtime sportswriter Bob Ryan called the portrayal of West “reprehensible” and “borderline criminal.”

The series isbased on the book “Showtime” by author and sportswriter Jeff Pearlman.

The letter includes statements from several people in support of West.

Former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, who worked with West, said: “During my time with the Lakers as a player and in the front office, Jerry was always professional, even-keeled and soft spoken. He was always positive and encouraging with me. I also found Jerry to be honest and sincere. I never saw or heard Jerry lose his temper with anyone. I also never saw or heard Jerry go on an angry rant or tirade nor did I ever see or hear Jerry scream or yell at anyone. That was not his personality. Jerry is soft spoken and does not like confrontation.”

Former player agent Arn Tellem, now an executive with the Detroit Pistons, in a guest column for The Hollywood Reporterwrote:“Of all the athletes and executives shamed and ridiculed in the first two episodes, the most brutal — and gratuitous — character assassination was reserved for Jerry West (played in the series by Jason Clarke), the universally beloved former Lakers player, coach and general manager known as Mr. Clutch. …

“In all of our dealings, he has been courteous, respectful, generous and self-deprecating. He’s never once lost his temper. He’s always heard me out. Many of the players I represented sought his counsel, both professionally and personally. Having battled depression during his entire adult life, West has a deep awareness of the suffering of others, coupled with the wish to relieve it. Sure, he can be moody. But when frustrated, he doesn’t lash out. He withdraws into himself.”

Former Lakers forward Jamaal Wilkes said in a statement: “In all of the time I knew Jerry as a coach and as a Laker executive, I never saw himdrink alcohol on the job nor did I ever see him intoxicated or impaired.”

The letter from Miller also claims the HBO limited series depicts West as incompetent, fabricated events, and permanently tarnished West. The letter adds thata disclaimer calling the series a dramatization does not excuse wrongful conduct and “does not insulate you from liability.”

While there is no lawsuit, the letter said the portrayal of West was accompanied by “legal malice.”

“We understand that the show has been picked up for one more season. We further demand that all future episodes avoid any false and defamatory content about Jerry West. All legal rights and remedies are reserved,” Miller concluded.

USA TODAY has reached out to HBO for comment.