Jerry West Threatens to Take HBO “All the Way to the Supreme Court” Over His Depiction in “Winning Time”

HBO, meanwhile, insists the show is "not a documentary"

Jerry West attends a basketball game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers at the Staples Center on March 1, 2020.
Jerry West at a game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers at the Staples Center
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

HBO’s Winning Time has not exactly been popular with the Lakers players and coaches it depicts. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have both spoken out about the Adam McKay series, but now Jerry West is taking things to a new level, threatening legal action over what he describes as a “baseless and malicious assault” on his character.

Winning Time falsely and cruelly portrays Mr. West as an out-of-control, intoxicated rageaholic,” West said through his lawyers, adding that the Jerry West character on the show “bears no resemblance to the real man.” 

On April 19, West’s legal team reportedly sent McKay and HBO a letter demanding a retraction. The letter also included statements from former Lakers players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Cooper and Jamaal Wilkes, as well as team employees who worked with West, including Claire Rothman, Charlene Kenney, Bob Steiner and Mitch Kupchak — all of whom deny ever seeing West drink alcohol in the office or lose his temper in the ways depicted on the show.

“To mitigate the harm you have caused, we request the issuance of a retraction of Winning Time’s false depiction of Jerry West no later than two weeks from the date of this letter,” the note reads. “You also owe Mr. West an apology for your hurtful misrepresentation of his work and legacy, plus damages for the harm you caused to his well-earned and stellar reputation.”

The letter didn’t go into specifics as to what sort of legal action might take place if the demands aren’t met, but West sounds ready for anything.

“The series made us all [the Lakers] look like cartoon characters,” he said recently. “They belittled something good. If I have to, I will take this all the way to the Supreme Court.”

HBO, on the other hand, isn’t backing down. On Tuesday, they issued a statement reminding West that Winning Time never presented itself as being entirely factual.

“HBO has a long history of producing compelling content drawn from actual facts and events that are fictionalized in part for dramatic purposes,” the network said in its statement. “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.”

So who’s actually in the right here? It’s hard to say. It’s true that Winning Time isn’t a documentary, but it is loosely based on Jeff Pearlman’s book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s, so it doesn’t seem too outrageous to think that some viewers might assume everything they’re seeing onscreen was reported in the book. That’s not the case and presumably is why West is so upset. Whether he’s able to successfully sue HBO over this, however, remains to be seen.

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!