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NBA Legend Jerry West Is So Mad About His Portrayal On HBO's Winning Time That He's Gotten Lawyers Involved

Jason Clarke and Jerry West
(Image credit: HBO/Good Life TV)

At this point, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that many members of the Los Angeles Lakers family are not pleased with HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty. The series has drawn the ire of a few big names, including former players Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Jerry West, who brought the franchise championships as both a player and general manager has become the latest to speak out on the production. And he’s so upset that he’s gotten his lawyers involved.

The man who graces the NBA’s logo has specifically asked for a retraction and apology for the manner in which the program (which has received mostly positive reviews from critics) has portrayed him. His legal team sent a letter (obtained by ESPN) to HBO and series producer Adam McKay, in which the hall of famer referred to the depiction as “a baseless and malicious assault” on his character. The lawyers also assert that the TV show “falsely and cruelly portrays Mr. West as an out-of-control, intoxicated rage-aholic,” which they say is not consistent with the former point guard’s personality. Attorney Skip Miller of the Miller Barondess LLP law firm further stated: 

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. 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.

Jerry West’s legal representation also argues that the series’ dramatization disclaimer (which appears during each installment) does not protect HBO from liability. The group is asking for a retraction no later than two weeks after the receipt of the letter. As of this writing, the premium cable channel has not publicly commented on the matter. 

Winning Time focuses on the Showtime-era Los Angeles Lakers, including the players and the folks who contributed to their success off the court. Jerry West, played by Jason Clarke, has arguably been one of the most widely discussed aspects of the story. When the show kicks off in 1979, West is the team’s head coach and is frustrated with its lack of success. He’s shown to be particularly upset with the idea of John C. Reilly’s Jerry Buss drafting enthusiastic rookie Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who’s portrayed by Quincy Isaiah. Over the course of the series, West has several notable outbursts, one of which sees him damage the NBA Finals MVP trophy he earned in 1969 – despite his team having not won the title that year.

In their letter, the legal team asserts that the moments of rage do not occur in Jeff Pearlman’s Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s, the book on which the series is based. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also took issue with the portrayal of his colleague, saying that the series tagged him as “Crazed Coach.” The six-time NBA champion was one of several franchise alums who provided additional statements in the letter. And just as he did when he originally shared his views on HBO’s creation, Abdul-Jabbar did not hold back

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.

Unlike Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West, Magic Johnson has yet to check out Winning Time for himself, as he believes Showtime cannot be replicated. Quincy Isaiah has responded to the legend’s criticism, saying that there’s “no malice behind” the series. He believes the producers did a “really good job of showing humans and showing a full version of who we at least perceive them to be.”

HBO now finds itself in a very interesting position, as this legal action comes on heels of Winning Time’s renewal for Season 2. How the fictionalized version Jerry West factors into those future episodes remains to be seen. But more immediately, with the timeframe stipulated by the lawyers, one would assume that the network will take some kind of action sooner rather than later. 

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET, which can subsequently be streamed with an HBO Max subscription.

Erik Swann
Erik Swann

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.