EXCLUSIVE: Jerry West Opens Up About His Portrayal On HBO’s 'Winning Time'


2017 NBA Draft Combine - Day Two

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To say that the HBO series on the Los Angeles Lakers called ``Winning Time'' is a raving tableau of fictionalized imbecility would be a much too kind an assessment.

It's so ghastly that it's taken all my willpower to make it through an entire episode without turning off the TV in annoyance.

It's so thoroughly rife with deceitful depictions and fake stories and puerile affectations and bogus narratives that frankly I'm surprised those human beings responsible for this piece of dung would allow their names to actually appear on the credits, which graphically reflects just how intellectually challenged they are.

I understand that such documentary productions always are heavily embroidered with fantasy for dramatic effect and that ``Winning Time'' even has a pre-viewing disclaimer about its inauthentic portrayals and bogus plot lines.

But what I've so far watched is nothing more than a ceaseless stream of outrageous misconceptions and outrageous misinformation and outrageous mischaracterizations.

It's one thing to take liberties with the truth, which all films and TV shows do regularly.

I mean, it's one thing showing Jerry Buss attempting to hire Jerry Tarkanian to coach the Lakers when, instead, it was the team's then owner, Jack Kent Cooke, who actually pursued Tarkanian.

It's one thing strongly intimating that Tarkanian's boyhood friend, San Fernando Valley car dealer Vic Weiss, was murdered by the Las Vegas mob for trying to persuade Tarkanian to depart UNLV for the Lakers when it's long been established by the LAPD that Weiss' fate allegedly was caused by a gambling betrayal. (for the record, I knew Weiss well because of his association with boxing as he was the manager of then welterweight contender Armando Muniz; he also had a full head of hair and didn't wear a toupee as humorously depicted---it fell off once---in the series).

It's one thing to show Jerry Buss and his business partner Frank Marinai on the links with Bill Sharman even though neither Buss nor Marinai golfed.

It's one thing to show Jerry West angrily throwing his 1969 NBA Finals MVP trophy through a window in his Forum office even though his office was windowless and even though he never displayed any of his many plaques and trophies in it.

One could go on endlessly about the fictitious, if not at times satirically abominable tone of this purported documentary.

But it's another to supposedly posit at least a threadbare of the history of a sacred Los Angeles sporting franchise while, instead, turning the saga into a mishmash of fabrications and in the process savagely slandering many of its most famous principals including, perhaps worst of all, Jerry West.

Indeed, while the late Laker owner Jerry Buss is cast as a loudmouth, unhinged voluptuary who once brashly told off Red Auerbach even though he never did and even though he was soft-spoken and low-key and even though others like Marinai, Norm Nixon, Jeanne Buss, and Pat Riley have been cast in a negative light, it has been West who has endured the worst portrayal.

I have not the faintest idea who this version of Jerry West is, and I've only known West since October of 1968 when I was introduced to him by Chick Hearn at the beginning of my first season as a beat writer for the Lakers for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.

What I do know is the Jerry West I'm observing in this series is so far removed from the amiable, unpretentious, level-headed, down-to-earth person I've known across the past five decades as a player, coach, general manager, consultant and friend that it feels as though those responsible for ``Winning Time'' decided to turn a beloved sporting figure and NBA logo into an intemperate, even boorish figure to make a public splash. You talk about disinformation, or fake news! It shows West manically breaking a golf club.

"Never happened because I'd never try something like that,'' says West. ``What idiot would attempt to break a golf club across his legs?''

It shows him having a loud, epithet-laden arguments with Jerry Buss.

``Never happened,'' says West. ``Of course, I had some disagreements with Jerry, but never did our disagreements deteriorate into a screaming match. Who would be stupid enough to get into a fight with a person who can fire you?''

It shows him as a boozer, which I can attest is an absolute lie because I've never seen him in his cups and never even seen him have more than one drink---and most occasions none---in the 50 or 60 times we've dined together over the years.

It shows him being unceremoniously thrown out of a Laker pre-season practice in a Palm Springs gym by the team's new coach, Jack McKinney, in October of 1979. When I informed West of this scene, he said:

``You have to be kidding me. I've never been kicked out of a Laker practice in my life by anyone.''

But the most egregious Jerry West misrepresentation in ``Winning Time'' is the fable that he strongly endorsed using the Lakers' first pick of the 1979 draft on an Arkansas guard named Sidney Moncrief instead of Magic Johnson.

``That's absolutely a lie,'' says West. ``Certainly, I thought Sidney Moncrief would be a good NBA player, and he turned out to be an All Star. But, please, I would never have drafted Moncrief ahead of Magic Johnson, who I knew would be a great, great NBA player and had so much charisma. An LA sportswriter started that rumor back in `79 and the press has run with it ever since even though it's simply not true.
``First off, Jack Kent Cooke had said throughout that season that the Lakers were going to take Magic. He made the decision, and there never was any debate about it. Jack kept saying before the draft, `It's going to be Magic Time in LA.' Bill Sharman was then the general manager, but the decision to draft Magic was strictly Jack Kent Cooke's. If I were in charge, I of course would have taken Magic, who I've had such a close friendship with over the years and for whom I have great respect.''

Jerry West hasn't seen an episode of ``Winning Time'' and says he never will watch it, but is constantly being told of some of its unflattering contents by outraged friends.

"Of course it hurts when I hear how I'm being portrayed,'' he says. "That's just not me. Certainly, I'm not a perfect person. But I'm also not the combustible person they're showing me to be in this series. Of course, it bothers me. I've had a few sleepless nights because of it. I don't deserve such treatment. . .''

He certainly doesn't.

It must not be forgotten that, as general manager of the Lakers, Jerry West made the right choice picking James Worthy over Dominque Wilkins, that he made the right choice when he vehemently intervened---he threaten to quit--when Jerry Buss during the 1986 off-season made a deal with then Dallas Mavericks owner Donald Carter to trade Worthy and Byron Scott for the drug-addled Roy Tarpley and Mark Aguirre, that he made the right choice in 1996 when he traded Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for their 13th pick on the first round, 18-year-old youngster named Kobe Bryant, and later in that memorable summer persuaded Shaquille O'Neal to come to Los Angeles.

He was an unrivaled master at building rosters with almost perfect chemistry during the Showtime era as he surrounded Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy with a slew of adept complementary players such as Mitch Kupchak, Byron Scott, A.C. Green, Mychal Thompson, Robert McAdoo, Orlando Woolridge, Michael Cooper and many others.

A strong case can be made that no one has had a greater impact on the Lakers during the past 40 years than Jerry West, and this unjust persecution of him by this silly, untrue HBO series might well one day wind up in the courts.

Doug Krikorian was a sportswriter 44 years in Southern California---22 at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and 22 at the Long Beach Press Telegram. He has been a friend of Jerry West for 54 years dating back to 1968 when he was a beat writer covering the Lakers for the Herald Examiner.

Photo: Getty Images


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