Winning Time debuted in early March with a disclaimer on the screen that said this is “a dramatization of certain facts and events.”
Jerry West does not care about that and is still piping hot mad over the HBP series and his portrayal in it. The former Los Angeles Lakers coach and general manager, depicted in the series by actor Jason Clarke, fired off a legal letter to Warner Bros. Discovery, HBO, and series producer Adam McKay demanding a retraction, an apology, and unspecified damages for the “false and defamatory portrayal.”
“You replaced the real Jerry West — a consummate professional — with his polar opposite, then portrayed this lie to the public as genuine,” the letter reads, via the Los Angeles Times. “You thereby violated the law.”
“… To mitigate the harm you have caused, we request the issuance of a retraction of Winning Time’s false depiction of Jerry West no later than two weeks from the date of this letter. You also owe Mr. West an apology for your hurtful misrepresentation of his work and legacy, plus damages for the harm you caused to his well-earned and stellar reputation.”
West then took it a step further when he told sports editor Bill Dwyre he’s willing to take this all the way to the Supreme Court if he has to.
“The series made us all [the Lakers] look like cartoon characters,” West told Dwyre. “They belittled something good. If I have to, I will take this all the way to the Supreme Court.”
In a statement provided exclusively to The Hollywood Reporter, the network had this to say: “HBO has a long history of producing compelling content drawn from actual facts and events that are fictionalized in part for dramatic purposes. 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.”
On his Substack, Abdul-Jabbar came to West’s defense as well. “It’s a shame the way they treat Jerry West, who has openly discussed his struggle with mental health, especially depression,” he wrote. “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.”
It is not clear whether or not West will be successful if he chooses to sue for defamation.
Despite going 1-8 in the NBA Finals, Jerry West spearheaded a Lakers squad that would eventually win the title in 1972 alongside Wilt Chamberlain.
He played in an era that did not have the three-point arc and still averaged an impressive 27.0 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.8 rebounds.