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Winning Time: Jerry West demands legal retraction over ‘deliberately false’ portrayal in HBO series

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Basketball icon Jerry West has asked HBO to legally retract its recent drama series Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, describing its portrayal of him as “baseless”.

Executive produced by Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up), the series depicts the Los Angeles Lakers NBA team in the 1980s, at the beginning of the so-called “Showtime” era.

In the series, which captures West’s time as head coach of the Lakers, he is played by Jason Clarke. Among the other real people depicted in the show are Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Per Variety, West’s attorneys sent a letter to HBO and its parent company, Warner Bros, on Tuesday (19 April), claiming that the series had “caused great distress to Jerry and his family”.

The letter asks that an apology be made and a legal retraction by HBO within two weeks.

In the series, West is portrayed as a man with a violent temper, prone to smashing inanimate objects in frustration.

West’s lawyers describe the series’ depiction of him as a “deliberately false characterisation”.

“Contrary to the baseless portrayal in the HBO series, Jerry had nothing but love for and harmony with the Lakers organisation, and in particular owner Dr Jerry Buss, during an era in which he assembled one of the greatest teams in NBA history,” they wrote.

“HBO’s characterisation of Jerry is so egregious and cruel that a number of former Lakers players, executives and associates – some who are also portrayed in the series and worked directly with him for many years – have weighed in,” the letter continues.

Several NBA figures, including Michael Cooper, Jamaal Wilkes and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, are then cited in the letter.

Jerry West, left, and as portrayed by Jason Clarke in ‘Winning Time’ (right) (Getty/HBO)
Jerry West, left, and as portrayed by Jason Clarke in ‘Winning Time’ (right) (Getty/HBO)

Abdul-Jabbar shared his own thoughts on the programme earlier this week, writing in a blog post: “Instead of exploring his issues with compassion as a way to better understand [Jerry West], 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.”

HBO has already commissioned a second season of Winning Time. Speaking around the release of the first season, McKay and the series’ other producers have discussed the extensive research that went into the show’s production.

In an interview with Newsweek before the show’s debut, Clarke said that he and other actors were given freedom to interpret characters in their own way, until the point where they go “too far”.

Quincy Isaiah, the actor who portrays “Magic” Johnson on Winning Time, responded to criticism of the show’s depiction of Johnson in an interview with TMZ.

“I mean, I understand where they coming from because it’s a story about their life. So, it’s tough. But I really feel like we did a really good job of showing humans and showing a full version of who we at least perceive them to be. There’s no malice behind it,” he said.

“At the beginning and end of every episode it says ‘this is a dramatisation.’ We take real facts that happen, and we make it good for TV.”

The Independent has contacted HBO for comment.

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