NBA Legend Jerry West Threatens to Take HBO to Supreme Court Over ‘Winning Time’ Series

It’s been since early 2020 when a sports feature dominated the entertainment sphere when The Last Dance gave us an inside look at Michael Jordan’s basketball career. Now, HBO is attempting to relive more NBA greatness with its first season of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty

But unlike The Last Dance, a docuseries which included interviews with Jordan himself, Winning Time is only based on true events — and is largely denounced by the basketball greats it portrays. In fact, NBA star and former Los Angeles Lakers General Manager Jerry West is ready to go to court over its depiction of him and the players he worked with. 

‘Winning Time’ depicts Magic Johnson and the 1979-1980 Los Angeles Lakers 

Winning Time, a 10-episode series produced by Max Borenstein and Don’t Look Up’s Adam McKay, follows the 1979-80 Lakers season when Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) buys the team and Earving “Magic” Johnson (Quincy Isaiah) begins his rookie year. It also highlights the personal lives and team dynamics among others like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Solomon Hughes). West, who was the head coach, then scout, then general manager for the Lakers during this era, is portrayed by Jason Clarke.

The HBO series is based on a book by Jeff Pearlman titled Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s. The TV episodes make it clear that while they are based in fact, the show is not meant to be a documentary. 

Former Laker player, coach, and GM Jerry West is not happy with how he is portrayed

Jerry West standing in a suit on stage
Jerry West | Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

West, a respected Lakers legend known as “Mr. Logo” for his likeness on the NBA emblem, is not pleased with how he or other Lakers figures from that time have been portrayed. 

West, 83, sent a letter via his lawyer to HBO demanding a retraction of the show’s claims about his character. “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, per the LA Times. “You thereby violated the law.” The letter further requests an apology from the network and damages for harming his reputation. 

In a follow-up conversation with former LA Times sports editor Bill Dwyre, West said he would take the issue to court if he needed to. “The series made us all [the Lakers] look like cartoon characters,” West said. “They belittled something good. If I have to, I will take this all the way to the Supreme Court.”

The cable network does not appear to be backing down from its support of the show. “‘Winning Time’ is not a documentary and has not been presented as such,” HBO said in a statement reported by the Times. “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.”

The controversial HBO show is renewed for Season 2

Not only has HBO defended Winning Time so far, it has doubled down by ordering a second season. The Season 1 finale aired on May 8, and the network is ready for more Showtime-era Lakers plotlines. That may have something to do with the fact that despite Lakers insiders taking issue with the show, it’s largely popular among fans. It’s scored a fresh 84% from critics and audiences alike on Rotten Tomatoes

“This series not only tells the riveting story of the Lakers’ rise, but is also a look back at a transformative era in basketball, celebrity, and the city of Los Angeles,” Francesca Orsi, Executive Vice President of HBO Programming, said in a statement. “We can’t wait to see how this team will tell the next chapter of this dynasty.” 

In fact, HBO has optioned Pearlman’s follow-up book, Three-Ring Circus, which details the Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant years in the early 2000s, The Hollywood Reporter notes. If West is unsuccessful in his quest to eliminate the show altogether and fans continue to love the HBO offering, we could be seeing a portrayal of The Black Mamba in a few seasons from now. 

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