West told the Los Angeles Times that he will take HBO to court if the network does not issue a retraction.
“The series made us all [the Lakers] look like cartoon characters,” West told the Times. “They belittled something good. If I have to, I will take this all the way to the Supreme Court.”
“You replaced the real Jerry West — a consummate professional — with his polar opposite, then portrayed this lie to the public as genuine,” the letter read. “You thereby violated the law.”
The legal letter was sent April 19 to executive producer McKay, HBO, and parent company Warner Bros.-Discovery. West’s attorneys stated that the series has “caused great distress to Jerry and his family” due to a “baseless and defamatory portrayal,” and demanded a legal retraction from HBO within two weeks.
West is portrayed by Jason Clarke on the series. The letter continued, “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.”
Los Angeles Lakers All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar similarly penned a Substack blog post titled “‘Winning Time’ Isn’t Just Deliberately Dishonest, It’s Drearily Dull” to call out the historical inaccuracies of the series and criticize its intentions. Abdul-Jabbar wrote that it was “a shame” to portray West as a “Wile E. Coyote cartoon” especially since West has openly discussed his struggles with mental health and depression.
HBO issued a public response, reading, “HBO 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.”
The network added, “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.”
“Winning Time” focuses on the 1980s Showtime era of the Lakers. The 10-episode series is created by Max Borenstein and Jim Hecht and produced by McKay, who has helmed other historical dramas “Vice” and “The Big Short.” The show has already been greenlit for Season 2.
Jeff Pearlman, who wrote the book on which “Winning Time” is based, weighed in on the controversy by retweeting “Empire” and “Dopesick” creator Danny Strong’s tweet, which read, “The NBA/Lakers need to re-think their ‘Winning Time’ strategy. Attacking it makes them look petty and unable to take a joke. Everyone LOVES the show because it’s fantastic, thus the huge ratings. Negative character moments are filled with affection, humor and love for the Lakers.”
Pearlman commented, “I one million percent agree.”
The NBA has also stated that they are “not supporting” the series. HBO previously confirmed that NBA league lawyers have reached out to the network regarding the use of official NBA logos and trademarks.
Producer McKay formerly told said that the series has “good intentions” despite what its real-life counterparts may think.
“They’re used to a certain degree of media that’s always going after them, and if I could talk to them, I’d say, ‘No, no, don’t worry, we’re going to paint the whole picture,’ but I get it, they don’t know me or [showrunner] Max Borenstein,” McKay said before the series premiered. “It’s their right to really not like it.”
I one million percent agree. https://t.co/LkeKVmlRqk
— Jeff Pearlman (@jeffpearlman) April 26, 2022