Jerry West didn’t get mad, don’t say he got mad on a television show

The real topics of HBO’s Lakers show, winning time are not happy with it. Fair enough. I can understand why it can be painful to relive the 1989 Finals series defeat by the Detroit Pistons. (I haven’t seen the show, so I assume it’s about that.)

Vivid, devastating memories of Joe Dumars’ incarceration aren’t the only point of contention: Jeff Pearlman’s book on the Showtime Lakers offers winning time with its source material, but the show takes creative liberties. Each episode includes the disclaimer: “This series is a dramatization of certain facts and events. Some names have been changed and some events and characters have been fictionalized, altered, or composed for dramatic purposes.” Of course, this is probably unsatisfactory if the characters mentioned are you and the people you know. The Athletic ran a story last month about a former team athletic trainer who stopped advising the show due to executive Jerry West’s “complete mischaracterization”. Other former Lakers staffers told The Athletic they knew West was much more understated and professional than the heavy-drinking hothead he is on screen.

Among those who came in defense of West was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who wrote a small review of winning time Tuesday in his newsletter. He is sympathetic to the Hollywood writer’s job and knows that the image of a celebrity is largely out of their hands. “There’s very little anyone can say about me — whether it’s true or not — that will affect my life,” he writes. The Lakers legend comes out as a fan of The bigin which Catherine the Great gets the gonzo Elle Fanning treatment, citing it as an example of TV shows that “take dramatic license to convey a deeper truth”.

Abdul-Jabbar’s main objection to: winning time, he says, is that it is boring. He finds the characters one-dimensional, the jokes not very funny and the “fourth wall” breaking – a signature of producer Adam McKay’s – too explanatory. By the end of the post, however, he has strayed a bit from cold-blooded cultural criticism into a bit of whining about accuracy. The Western scenes “stank of easy man exploitation rather than character exploration.” There is another scene that really annoys him, one where Abdul-Jabbar’s character tells the child actor of Plane! fuck off:

For years I have been visiting schools to promote STEM education. But when people see this show and get the impression that I’m verbally insulting kids, they’re less likely to support my foundation. This means that fewer children can participate in the program. So Adam McKay gives those kids a really big “Fk off!” that lasts much longer than the easy laugh he got from a dishonest joke.

Stretch a little? At the very least, it overestimates the number of people who watch HBO. But Kareem’s “I’m not mad! I’m not mad!” approach has nothing on Jerry West’s “I ben angry!” approach. Yesterday, West’s lawyers sent a letter to HBO demanding an apology for and retraction of the show’s “false and defamatory portrayal”. ‘ and ‘seems like crazy’ serves as proof of his suffering reputation.

Attached to the letter are kind words from a number of people who insist that West is a sincere gentleman. The widow of a former Lakers executive writes that “It was extremely shocking to see Jerry portrayed in this vulgar and disgusting series.” Michael Cooper “never even saw Jerry wear jeans or sweatpants on the job, nor did I ever see him in fishing gear at work.”

The best letter comes from Buck Martin, who worked in security and event planning positions for the Lakers. Most letter writers just stick to the prompt and say they’ve never seen West drunk at work or angrily throwing things. But Martin takes the opportunity to share some good stories instead:

I first met Jerry in 1976 at a concert ticket sale as a security guard one morning in the parking lot of the Fabulous Forum. Jerry came to work and said hello to me and asked how I was doing. I was 18 years old. After walking through the double doors to the Forum office, I said to my colleague: That was Jerry West! Just a nice man.

[…]

We used to draw names for exchanging Christmas presents. I got Jerry’s name for a year. What are you giving Jerry West? I got an idea and borrowed James Worthy’s jersey and had Len, the photographer from Forum, take a picture of me hitting a basketball, standing on a ladder, of course. You couldn’t see the ladder in the photo. I signed the photo with a personal message that I was there if he needed me. I framed it, wrapped it and gave it to him. Jerry got a kick out of it and had it on his desk until he left the Forum. Shaq once said to me, you are the man in the picture on Jerry West’s desk. Jerry is a gentleman and will always be my hero. He is a winner through and through. Please give him a hug for me and the rest of your family. All the best to you and yours from Wendy and I and our clan.

Thank you, Buck. That sounds really nice.

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