Jerry West seeks retraction for ‘deliberately false’ portrayal in HBO’s ‘Winning Time’

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

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

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“Winning Time,” which was recently renewed for a second season by HBO, follows the Los Angeles Lakers at the start of the “Showtime” era in the 1980s, 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 on the show, who portrays West as a fiery executive stirred by his multiple NBA Finals losses as a player.

“You took a happy, super-successful Lakers era and turned it into a pulpy soap opera,” the letter read. “You portrayed people in a false light, not who they are at all, to collect notes and make money.”

The letter also contains testimonials from people who worked alongside West at the time, including words from Claire Rothman and Abdul-Jabbar – who are also portrayed on the show, by Gaby Hoffmann and Solomon Hughes, respectively.

HBO could not immediately be reached for comment.

West’s legal action comes just hours after Abdul-Jabbar offered his own review of the show via his personal blog, in which he also singled out West for his portrayal on the show.

“Instead of exploring his issues with compassion as a way to better understand the man, they turn him into a mocking Wile E. Coyote cartoon,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “He never broke golf clubs, he never threw his trophy out the window. Sure, these actions create dramatic moments, but they reek of easy human exploitation rather than character exploration.

Read the full statement from Skip Miller, attorney for Jerry West and the LA law firm Miller Barondess, LLP, below:

“The depiction of NBA icon and LA Lakers legend Jerry West in ‘Winning Time’ is fiction purporting to be fact – a deliberately false characterization that has caused great distress to Jerry and his family. Unlike the baseless portrayal of the HBO series, Jerry had nothing but love and harmony with the Lakers organization, and in particular the owner, Dr. Jerry Buss, at a time when he was bringing together one of greatest teams in NBA history.

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

  • Michael Cooper, former Lakers forward who worked closely with Jerry West as special assistant to the general manager.

  • Jamaal Wilkes, four-time NBA champion and former Lakers forward.

  • Mitch Kupchak, president of Charlotte Hornets who played for the Lakers and worked for Jerry when he was general manager of the Lakers.

  • Frank Mariani, longtime business partner of Lakers owner Dr. Buss.

  • Claire L. Rothman, one of Dr. Buss’s closest associates who ran the Forum’s operations for 20 years.

  • Bob Steiner, former public relations director for the Lakers, LA Kings and The Forum, as well as personal assistant to Dr. Buss.

  • Charline Kenney, executive secretary to Dr. Buss, who worked in the office with Jerry for 20 years.

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who played for Jerry as a coach and also worked with Jerry in the Lakers front office.

“Jerry West has been integral to the success of the Lakers and the NBA. It’s a travesty that HBO knowingly belittled him for his shock value and pursuit of ratings. As an act of common decency , HBO and the producers owe Jerry a public apology and should at the very least withdraw their baseless and defamatory portrayal of him.

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