Shooting Foul: Jerry West Is Getting a Raw Deal From HBO’s L.A. Lakers Series

The official NBA logo doesn’t use a photo of Jerry West, but everyone knows the silhouette in the image is based on the former Los Angeles Lakers great. On the other hand, early episodes in HBO’s 10-part series on the Lakers’ dynasty rely upon a portrayal of West that friends and colleagues say bears no resemblance to the Hall of Fame guard.

It’s a horrible representation of a man who gave much to the franchise as a player, coach, and front-office executive. Yes, HBO gets to brush it off by labeling Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty as a dramatization rather than a documentary. No, it isn’t right.

Jerry West left his mark on the NBA

Jerry West reacts after being introduced as part of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team during the 2022 NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 20, 2022. | Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
Jerry West reacts after being introduced as part of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team during the 2022 NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 20, 2022. | Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers guard Jerry West scored 20 points in his NBA debut on Oct. 19, 1960, and only got better from there. He earned All-Star recognition in all 14 seasons, averaging 27.0 points and 6.7 assists a game throughout his career, all the while averaging more than 39 minutes a game and making 10 all-league teams.

And though his Lakers teams earned only one NBA championship during an era dominated by the Boston Celtics, West averaged 29.1 points and 6.3 assists in 153 postseason games.

He retired in 1974 and moved into the role of the Lakers’ head coach in 1976. His teams went 145-101 over three seasons and made the playoffs all three years.

After that, West worked at various times in the front office. He made the post-draft deal that brought Kobe Bryant to the Lakers in 1996 and with signed Shaquille O’Neal as a free agent. He also persuaded Phil Jackson to come aboard as the coach in 1999, kicking off a championship three-peat.

On top of everything else, West is literally the NBA’s official logo.

Jerry West is getting a raw deal from HBO

HBO’s new series on the Los Angeles Lakers of the Pat Riley and Magic Johnson era has people upset with its treatment of Jerry West. The initial episodes of Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty, a 10-part series, portray West, who coached from 1976-79, as profane, insecure, hard-drinking, and temperamental.

“It was a total mischaracterization of Jerry West,” longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti told The Athletic.

Mitch Kupchak, like West a player-turned-executive with more than three decades in the front office, told the website that the show is ridiculously far off the mark.

“The guy in the show playing Jerry and the Jerry I worked with for 14 years is not the same guy,” he said. “Jerry was passionate but never lost his temper and threw things. Never. I would know.” 

An unidentified former Lakers executive raised a great point by calling the portrayal by actor Jason Clarke “a huge disservice to the show’s viewers, who will think that it’s a true and accurate portrayal of reality.” 

‘Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty’ is based on a book

HBO is characterizing Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty as a dramatization, but the framework of the series comes largely from a 1994 book Jeff Pearlman wrote about the “Showtime” era after conducting more than 300 interviews. The difference in standards between a reporter and a television screenwriter is apparent.

For starters, the timeline for Jeannie Buss going to work for her father, Dr. Jerry Buss, was wrong, and she played no meaningful role in running the Lakers before 1995, which was three coaches removed from the Pat Riley era and six coaches removed from Jerry West’s time on the bench.

It was that sort of lack of attention that led trainer Gary Vitti to walk off the set after two days as a consultant, costing himself about $15,000, according to The Athletic.

Interestingly, West, now 83, has not spoken publicly about the series. Nor have the Lakers responded other than to point out through a spokesman that they’re not involved with the project.

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