Jerry West vows to take HBO to Supreme Court over 'Winning Time' depiction

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Last week, Jerry West let his lawyers do the talking.

Now, he's calling shots himself. And he's ready to take HBO all the way to the Supreme Court.

The NBA icon is a subject of HBO's series "Winning Time" about the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s. In it, West is portrayed in his role as a Lakers executive as frequently fueled by anger and alcohol, a depiction he's none too fond of. He's also portrayed as advising Lakers owner Jerry Buss to — gasp — not draft Magic Johnson. It's a depiction that ex-Lakers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Cooper and Jamaal Wilkes and former team employees denied is accurate in a letter to HBO from West's lawyers demanding a retraction.

'They belittled something good'

In comments made to the Los Angeles Times published on Monday, West spoke directly about his thoughts on "Winning Time" for the first time in public.

“The series made us all 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.”

CLEVELAND, OHIO - FEBRUARY 20: Jerry West reacts after being introduced as part of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team during the 2022 NBA All-Star Game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on February 20, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Jerry West is not backing down from his fight with HBO. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

So there you have it. Get your lawyers ready, HBO.

West's brief comment to the Times follows up a more formal statement from his attorney Skip Miller last week. In it, Miller hints at legal action that could precede West's plans to involve that nation's highest court.

"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's statement reads. ... "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."

West's attorneys also took specific issue with the Magic Johnson implication.

“So instead of seeing the true Jerry West — a brilliant GM who was the architect of one of the great NBA dynasties — anyone who watched the show would be left with the false impression that West is incompetent, that he didn’t want Magic Johnson," the statement reads. "This is a fabrication. You depict Jerry as a clueless bumpkin wearing a fishing hat to practice, which also never happened — rather than a dedicated and capable GM."

HBO's response

HBO doesn't deny that it's taken dramatic license with the show. "Winning Time" is a fictional dramatization of real-life events. The network is standing its ground.

" 'Winning Time' is not a documentary and has not been presented as such," an HBO statement reads. "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.”

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