After being asked last week for a retraction and an apology by former Los Angeles Lakers executive Jerry West for "a baseless and malicious assault" on his character, HBO on Tuesday instead issued a statement defending its series "Winning Time," saying its "dramatization" is "based on extensive factual research and reliable sourcing."
West's lawyers last week alleged that "Winning Time falsely and cruelly portrays Mr. West as an out-of-control, intoxicated rage-aholic," saying that "bears no resemblance to the real man." In the letter sent April 19 to HBO and series producer Adam McKay, obtained by ESPN, West's lawyers asked for a retraction no later than two weeks from the receipt of the letter.
HBO issued its response Tuesday in a statement initially given to The Hollywood Reporter and later obtained by ESPN.
"HBO has a long history of producing compelling content drawn from actual facts and events that are fictionalized in part for dramatic purposes," the network said in its statement. "'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."
West's lawyers said HBO's disclaimer that the series is a dramatization does not insulate the network from liability.
The series, which has been airing on Sunday nights this spring on HBO, is based on author Jeff Pearlman's book "Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s."
West's lawyers alleged that the series creators acted with "legal malice" because many scenes in the series showing West's purported rage did not appear in Pearlman's book and did not happen. The letter includes statements from former players such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Cooper and Jamaal Wilkes, as well as Lakers employees such as Claire Rothman, Charlene Kenney, Bob Steiner and Mitch Kupchak who worked with West during the time period covered in the show, that deny that they ever saw him commit any of the rage-filled acts depicted in the series or drink alcohol in the office.
"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 said in a statement. "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."
West's lawyers said he is due a retraction, an apology and damages from HBO and the show's producers because "the show goes out of its way to denigrate Jerry West despite his accomplishments as an executive."
ESPN's Ramona Shelburne contributed to this report.