MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It’s impossible to write the history of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise without Jerry West.
Whether as a player, a coach, a scout, or a front office executive, the West Virginia University and NBA all-time great will forever be intertwined with one of the most successful franchises in the Association.
West, who scored 25,192 points with Los Angeles, and was an NBA Finals champion and MVP with the organization, has been open about the good and the bad times in his life.
His autobiography is titled “West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life.”
West’s importance to the Lakers franchise, however, has been somewhat overshadowed in recent weeks due to his portrayal in the hit HBO show “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty”. The sports drama series is based on Jeff Pearlman’s book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.”
In the series, West is portrayed as being extremely temperamental, and prone to sudden angry outbursts. Early in the first season, he was depicted breaking a golf club on a golf course, breaking his NBA Finals MVP trophy, and having other abrupt mood swings.
West himself has denied actor Jason Clarke’s version of the former All-NBA guard, calling it “cruel” and “deliberately false” in a conversation with the LA Times. He even demanded a retraction and an apology for how he was portrayed.
While HBO has defended the series publicly, others who know West have come to the former Mountaineer great’s defense.
“He was kind of a quiet, to himself kind of person,” said former Lakers head coach Paul Westhead in a recent interview on The Dr. Brian McDonough Show. “I had not seen him act like [how West was shown in “Winning Time”]. I don’t know how [HBO] came up with that rendition. I have not seen Jerry West act in an out-of-control type fashion, no.”
Westhead was part of the coaching staff that replaced West ahead of the 1979-80 NBA season. West remained with the organization in an advisory and scouting role, then became LA’s general manager ahead of the 1982-83 season.
West said on April 26 that he is considering suing HBO and could even take his case to the Supreme Court.
Other former Lakers stars have also been critical of the show, as have some members of the national media.
“Storming, and screaming, and yelling, and throwing things, and whatever, that is not Jerry West at all,” said Rich Eisen in the March 13th edition of The Rich Eisen Show, which is broadcast nationally from Los Angeles.
Longtime NBA reporter J.A. Adande has also recently spoken in defense of West.
“Jerry West has every right to be upset,” Adande said on the nationally-syndicated radio show, Brother From Another. “When I see that character, none of it says Jerry West to me, from his look, his demeanor, his behavior – breaking stuff…none of that. None of that is Jerry West.”
Bob Ryan, who covered the 1980s Celtics as a beat writer for the Boston Globe and has covered the NBA for decades, pointed out that the HBO series is a dramatization of true events. That means that what is shown on the screen isn’t entirely accurate, he says.
HBO does show a disclaimer at the end of each episode that reads: “This series is a dramatization of certain facts and events. Some of the names have been changed, and some of the events and characters have been fictionalized, modified or composited for dramatic purposes.”
However, Ryan did suggest West should take legal action.
“If I were Jerry West, I would say call my lawyer,” Ryan said in early April on The Colin Cowherd Podcast. “I don’t know what Jerry West ever did to [director] Adam McKay to be portrayed in such an unflattering light, and unrealistic light, a just embarrassing light. And that’s just for openers.”
Veteran sportscaster Dan Patrick also came to West’s defense recently. Patrick grew up watching West play for the Lakers and is open about his fandom of the West Virginia native.
“Jerry West was the architect for a lot of these great Lakers teams, a Hall of Famer for the Lakers, and frequent guest and one of my idols growing up. And I’m watching how he’s being portrayed, really as someone who’s out of control,” Patrick said on the April 27 episode of The Dan Patrick Show. “I just felt really bad, you know, that people who don’t know Jerry West might only know him for [his portrayal in “Winning Time”]. And he deserves better than that.”
The first eight episodes of season one of “Winning Time” have aired on HBO. The ninth episode is set to air on Sunday. Season one is comprised of 10 episodes, the tenth of which will air on May 8.