Jerry West isn’t the only one perturbed with the depiction of West in HBO’s “Winning Time.”
The entire state of West Virginia is upset at the show’s portrayal of West, the state’s favorite son who is known as Zeke from Cabin Creek, the stream near his birthplace. Radio talk-show host Hoppy Kercheval called it an assault on West’s reputation.
A friend called after an early episode asking, “Was West really like that?”
And my Facebook feed includes people who know West and Magic Johnson, and they have scoffed at how West is portrayed. The subplots extend beyond West and include the NBA and others with competing interests who have Lakers-centric TV programs coming out or in the works.
This frustration has been building since early in the limited series when the show’s writers rendered West, the iconic player and executive who is also the basis of the NBA logo, as out of control with anger fueled by alcohol.
That frustration reached a high on Tuesday when West, through his attorney Skip Miller, demanded a retraction and apology for the “the false and defamatory portrayal of Mr. West in HBO’s “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” by no later than two weeks from the date of this letter. You have perpetrated an egregious wrong on a good and decent man and have harmed him in the process. This should never have happened; and by issuing a retraction, you can ameliorate some of the harm you have caused.”
“Winning Time” is based on “Showtime,” the best-selling book by author Jeff Pearlman. The letter says, “the defamatory scenes of Jerry’s purported rage appear nowhere in the book.”
What’s real and what’s not? The series opens with a disclaimer that it is a dramatization, and what’s a Hollywood script without a few liberties for entertainment’s sake. This is a commercial product designed not only to entertain but to make money.
Over-the-top characterizations based on real events is nothing new. West is intense, obsessed with winning and losing, holds grudges and admits losing in his first seven finals appearances, including six times to the Boston Celtics, had a damaging effect on him. But West has been turned into a buffoonish cartoon character.
The letter says the show’s creators acted with malice, fabricated events, portrayed West as incompetent and as someone he is not and permanently tarnished West. While there is no legal action now, West’s attorney doesn’t rule it out. He calls the depiction of West “the epitome of malice” and suggests HBO, Warner Bros. Discovery producers and Adam McKay and Kevin Messick are subject to substantial legal exposure in this matter.”
The letter was lengthy and included statements in support of West from Michael Cooper, Jamaal Wilkes, Mitch Kupchak, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Arn Tellem, the former agent who is now an executive with the Detroit Pistons.
West isn’t the only one upset. Abdul-Jabbar called the show boring and Tellem said the series is “campy, mean-spirited fiction.”
That’s not all.
“Winning Time” uses the Lakers’ and league trademarks without permission.
“Clearances to use NBA trademarks were not sought or granted and the league objects to any unauthorized use of its intellectual property,” NBA chief communications officer Mike Bass said in a statement to The Athletic last month.
While the league objects, it also has a business relationship with Warner, which owns Turner Sports, and the league has a multi-billion dollar TV deal with Turner Sports. It will look to negotiate another deal before this one expires after the 2024-25 season. Suing over this matter is not worth it, and HBO/Warner knows that.
Magic Johnson said he isn’t interested in watching “Winning Time,” and word is Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, the daughter of one-time Lakers owner Jerry Buss, didn’t support the show. The good-time nature of the 1980s Lakers off the court probably didn’t appeal to either.
Johnson and Buss are also involved in Lakers-related TV projects. “They Call Me Magic,” a four-part docuseries about Johnson debuts Friday on Apple TV+, and Johnson is a willing participant and supporter of the project.
Buss is the executive producer of a nine-part Lakers docuseries on Hulu that interviews more than 40 people associated with the Lakers. It is scheduled for release later this year.
Buss and Lakers executive Linda Rambis have teamed with Mindy Kaling as executive producers on a 10-episode Netflix series about the owner of a pro basketball team dealing with the team and her personal life.
As you can see, the Lakers are big business on and off the court.
And all this attention has probably brought more viewers to “Winning Time,” retraction and apology or not.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jerry West: Why everyone is riled up about his depiction in HBO show