NBA legend Jerry West is demanding a retraction and apology over his portrayal on the HBO series “Winning Time.” West calls the show “a baseless malicious assault.”
Played by Jason Clarke, West comes across as a drunk with profound anger issues.
West has a legit complaint. I don’t know what West was like during the show’s timeline (the Los Angeles Lakers’ 1979-80 season, Magic Johnson’s rookie year).
But West couldn’t have been like that. His character on "Winning Time" is too totally over the top, like a skit on “Saturday Night Live.” Legendary basketball scribe Bob Ryan called West’s depiction “reprehensible” and “borderline criminal.”
But it’s a television show, right? TV gets to take dramatic license.
But is it fair to do that with real people and make them appear to be rotten, and falsely so?
I’m not sure. It happened to former Oakland A’s manager (and fellow Shaler High School grad) Art Howe in “Moneyball." That movie needed an anti-analytics heel.
So, the primary conflict was Howe vs. freshly-minted Bill James disciple Billy Beane, the A’s GM. Philip Seymour Hoffman vs. Brad Pitt.
Those A’s had three of baseball’s best 10 pitchers: Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. They were barely mentioned in "Moneyball." The A’s won because Beane forced Howe to play Scott Hatteberg at first base. He walked a lot, then hit a home run. That was the narrative.
The portrayal bugged Howe. Howe was not as Hoffman portrayed him, nor militantly anti-analytics. He was a damn good baseball man.
But…hooray for Hollywood.
Witness below the trailer for “Winning Time”…and below that, a scene that West probably isn’t happy about.
Thumbnail via Getty Images and HBO.