A letter sent by his lawyers refers to the depiction of West in the show (he’s played by Jason Clarke) as “a baseless and malicious assault” on his character. “Winning Time falsely and cruelly portrays Mr. West as an out-of-control, intoxicated rage-aholic,” it continues, adding that such a character “bears no resemblance to the real man.”
Along with seeking the retraction and the apology, West is reportedly also seeking damages from HBO. In the letter, his lawyer claimed that just because the show has a disclaimer saying it’s a dramatization doesn’t shield the network from liability.
In a statement, HBO said, “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.”
The letter from West and his lawyers arrives after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — another Lakers legend depicted in the show — shared a scathing critique of the series. While Abdul-Jabbar didn’t seem too phased by how he was portrayed on the show (even as he acknowledged his character comes off as a “Pompous Prick”), the depiction of West as the “Crazed Coach” was one of several aspects of Winning Time he took issue with.
“It’s a shame the way they treat Jerry West, who has openly discussed his struggle with mental health, especially depression,” Abdul-Jabbar 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.”
West’s lawyer, Skip Miller, seemed to agree, saying in a statement, “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. 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.”
“It is a travesty that HBO has knowingly demeaned him for shock value and the pursuit of ratings,” reads the letter from West’s lawyer. “As an act of common decency, HBO and the producers owe Jerry a public apology and at the very least should retract their baseless and defamatory portrayal of him.”
This story was updated 4/26/22 at 1:12 p.m. ET with a statement from HBO.