UPDATED with latest: There is a reason one of Jerry West’s nicknames is “Mr. Clutch”: He is not a man given to caving under pressure.
So while HBO today defended its buzzy series about the 1979-80 Los Angeles Lakers amid a storm of criticism from several Lakers legends and West, the former Lakers point guard, coach and GM doesn’t sound like he’s backing down.
In an interview with the L.A. Times published this morning before HBO issued its response, West confirmed his intention to take legal action if HBO does not issue a retraction.
“The series made us all [the Lakers] look like cartoon characters,” West told the Times. “They belittled something good. If I have to, I will take this all the way to the Supreme Court.”
West’s attorneys contend Winning Time “falsely and cruelly portrays Mr. West as an out-of-control, intoxicated rage-aholic. The Jerry West in Winning Time bears no resemblance to the real man.”
HBO said today — also notes prominently at the end of every episode — that Winning Time is a work of fiction.
“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.”
West will likely not be mollified by the statement, or his depiction in the latest episode of the show in which his character tells a down-in-the-dumps Magic that “Happiness is a diversion…And no one will be able to comprehend that. Nobody,” he says, “not your family, not your f*cking teammates, not your woman.” He ends by telling Magic that he wouldn’t trade his prized championship ring for mere happiness.
Jeff Pearlman, who wrote the book on which Winning Time is based, also responded by retweeting a post from Empire and Dopesick creator Danny Strong which read, “The NBA/Lakers need to re-think their Winning Time strategy. Attacking it makes them look petty and unable to take a joke. Everyone LOVES the show because it’s fantastic, thus the huge ratings. Negative character moments are filled with affection, humor and love for the Lakers.”
Pearlman commented, “I one million percent agree.”
I one million percent agree. https://t.co/LkeKVmlRqk
— Jeff Pearlman (@jeffpearlman) April 26, 2022
PREVIOUSLY on April 19: Jerry West only won one NBA championship in his career with the Lakers, but the Hall of Fame player-turned-GM was so respected around the league that it crafted the organization’s logo in his image. Now “the Logo,” as he’s admiringly called, is unhappy with his portrayal in HBO’s series Winning Time, according to multiple reports.
In a letter reportedly sent to HBO, Warner Bros., Discovery and executive producer Adam McKay, West’s attorneys contend Winning Time “falsely and cruelly portrays Mr. West as an out-of-control, intoxicated rage-aholic. The Jerry West in Winning Time bears no resemblance to the real man.”
Many have said as much, including Lakers’ legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his Showtime-era teammates Michael Cooper and Jamaal Wilkes as well as West’s successor, former Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, all of whom wrote testimonials that were sent with West’s letter.
Jason Clarke, who plays West in the show, certainly emotes the competitive fire which West is said to have, but the show’s plot has him scowling and angry much of the time, ragefully breaking his golf club in the first episode and curling up in a fetal position (in his underwear) in a fit of despair in the second.
“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,” wrote Abdul-Jabbar in his statement, according to ESPN.
While West only won one championship as a player with the Lakers, but as an executive with the team — much of it as GM — West helped bring five championships to L.A. in the ’80s (the Winning Time era) and laid the groundwork for three more in the early 2000s by trading for one Kobe Bean Bryant right after he’d been drafted out of high school by Charlotte in 1996.
“The real Jerry West prided himself on treating people with dignity and respect,” reads the letter. “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.”
In the communication, West demands a “retraction, apology and damages from HBO,” per ESPN.
Deadline reported the the series has been picked up for a second season.