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Jerry West’s legal team wants an apology and retraction for his portrayal in HBO’s Los Angeles Lakers-focused series Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.
In a statement that was sent to the network, Warner Bros. Discovery and executive producer Adam McKay and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, representatives for the former Lakers player, coach and general manager said the series “falsely and cruelly portrays Mr. West as an out-of-control, intoxicated rage-aholic.” Winning Time, centering on the Showtime era of the storied Lakers franchise during the 1980s, includes Jason Clarke as West and John C. Reilly as then-team owner Dr. Jerry Buss.
“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,” said the statement from attorney Skip Miller of law firm Miller Barondess, LLP. “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.”
West’s team accuses the show of “legal malice” and is asking for a retraction within two weeks. “Jerry West was an integral part of the Lakers and NBA’s success,” the message continued. “It is a travesty that HBO has knowingly demeaned him for shock value and the pursuit of ratings. 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.”
HBO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This follows Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, portrayed on the show by Solomon Hughes, criticizing the series earlier Tuesday for “crude stick-figure” characters. The six-time NBA champion, who has written for THR as a contributing editor, singled out the show’s characterization of West and said that scenes of him losing his temper “reek of facile exploitation of the man rather than exploration of character.”
In a guest column for THR published last month, NBA uber-agent and current Detroit Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem took issue with the series’ “cruel, dishonest and staggeringly insensitive” depiction of West. Of the show’s many characterizations, Tellem referred to that of West as “the most brutal — and gratuitous — character assassination.”
During a recent interview with THR, Jason Segel, who plays former Lakers assistant coach Paul Westhead, said that the show “is not a docuseries” and, when asked about the pushback it has received, added, “I think the show is made with a ton of love.” Castmember Rob Morgan (Earvin Johnson Sr.) similarly told THR recently that the people behind the series “are not documentarians” and that he hoped viewers could “do their own research.”
Winning Time, which was recently picked up for a second season, is based on Jeff Pearlman’s book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty. The show is created by Max Borenstein and Jim Hecht, and it counts McKay, who directed the pilot, as an executive producer.
Also part of the ensemble cast are Quincy Isaiah (Magic Johnson), Adrien Brody (Pat Riley), Hadley Robinson (Jeanie Buss), Gaby Hoffmann (Claire Rothman) and Sally Field (Jessie Buss).
Months before the show’s March 6 series premiere, Magic Johnson made it clear that the project did not have his blessing, stating that he was “not looking forward to it” and had no plans to watch.
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