War of words erupts between HBO, Jerry West over alleged ‘character assassination’

A man in a gray blazer stands in a locker room
Jason Clarke as Jerry West in HBO’s “Winning Time.”
(Warrick Page / HBO)

HBO has indicated it has no plans to honor Jerry West’s demand for a retraction of his portrayal in “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty,” which the NBA icon and former Lakers legend says is “cruel” and “deliberately false.”

In a statement issued nearly a week after the demand, HBO says it “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.”

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“HBO’s response is disappointing,” said Skip Miller, partner at the Miller Barondess law firm and attorney for Jerry West.
“It also acknowledges malice and recklessness on behalf of the network and producers of ‘Winning Time.’ If they had actually done research into the distinguished career of Jerry West, as they claim, they would have known full well that their portrayal of Jerry violated the law. This was not dramatization. This was character assassination for the sake of ratings.”


The series, which premiered in March, shows how the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers, with the help of rookie Earvin “Magic” Johnson and veteran Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, created the team’s “Showtime” era, realizing Buss’ revolutionary vision of mixing muscular athleticism with noisy, sexy entertainment.

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In the series, West, as played by Australian actor Jason Clarke, is a hot-tempered, foul-mouthed executive given to furious tantrums and mood swings.

Several prominent athletes, including Abdul-Jabbar and former Lakers Michael Cooper and Jamaal Wilkes, have denounced the portrayal and the series.