Jerry West's portrayal in HBO's new series has come under fire in a letter from his attorney.
Jerry West wants a retraction issued for his portrayal in HBO's Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.
The former Los Angeles Lakers player, who went on to work as head coach before ultimately serving as general manager of the team between 1982 and 2000, is seeking an apology, retraction and damages from HBO, Warner Bros. Discovery, Adam McKay and Kevin Messick, according to a letter sent by West's attorney, Skip Miller, and obtained by ET.
“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," Miller said in a statement. "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."
The statement continues, "HBO’s characterization 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." Among those are Jamaal Wilkes and Michael Cooper, whose statements recalling West's behavior are included with the letter.
"Jerry West was an integral part of the Lakers and NBA’s success," Miller said. "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.”
In the letter, dated April 19, Miller asks that "a retraction of Winning Time’s false depiction of Jerry West" be issued within two weeks. "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 states. "We understand that the show has been picked up for one more season. We further demand that all future episodes avoid any false and defamatory content about Jerry West."
Among the accusations leveled against the show in Miller's letter is the allegation that the HBO series "falsely and cruelly portrays Mr. West as an out-of-control, intoxicated rage-aholic."
"Winning Time is a baseless and malicious assault on Jerry West's character. You reduced the legacy of an 83-year-old legend and role model to that of a vulgar and unprofessional bully -- the polar opposite of the real man," the letter reads.
According to the letter, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who played on the team while West was a coach and general manager, has also defended West against the show's depiction. “Instead of exploring his issues with compassion as a way to better understand the man, they turn him into a Wile E. Coyote cartoon to be laughed at," Abdul-Jabbar is quoted as saying in the letter. "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.”
Miller alleges that the law has been violated as a result of misrepresenting West, even with the show's disclaimer that it is a dramatization. "You replaced the real Jerry West -- a consummate professional -- with his polar opposite, then portrayed this lie to the public as genuine," the letter reads. "You thereby violated the law."
Miller's letter also accuses them of fabricating events that did not happen, acting with malice and "permanently" tarnishing West. "You have portrayed him as a monster -- rude, angry and demeaning -- the opposite of who he really is," the letter states. "For many, especially those who do not know Jerry, your portrayal will be all they know. It will be their reality."
But in a statement to ET, HBO said it stands by their "talented creators and cast."
“HBO has a long history of producing compelling content drawn from actual facts and events that are fictionalized in part for dramatic purposes," the statement reads. "'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.”
ET has also reached out to Warner Bros. Discovery, McKay and Messick for comment.