Yesterday, we discussed a bit about the legal issues Jerry West might face in pursuing a defamation suit over his portrayal in HBO’s Winning Time.
In short, it’s probably really hard to do it, but there are certain things about this particular situation that could make it more plausible than most public figure defamation cases. Until now, HBO had maintained radio silence on the matter, but as West continued his push in the press, they finally released a statement today. Unsurprisingly, they’re standing by the show, which they’ve already renewed for another season:
“HBO has a long history of producing compelling content drawn from actual facts and events that are fictionalized in part for dramatic purposes,” HBO says in a 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, meanwhile, shows no signs of backing down from his own pursuit of a retraction or other damages, saying he was prepared to take it to court. And, if necessary, to the highest court:
The NBA legend recently spoke to former Times sports editor Bill Dwyre about “The Dream Whisperer,” a documentary film about the incredible journey of West’s former Lakers teammate Dick Barnett.
But West also used the opportunity to make his first public comment on his beef with HBO’s “Winning Time.”
Although the letter seemed to suggest some legal action might take place if those demands aren’t met, West apparently confirmed that to be his intention during his discussion with Dwyre.
“The series made us all [the Lakers] look like cartoon characters,” West told Dwyre. “They belittled something good. If I have to, I will take this all the way to the Supreme Court.”
There are points to be made for both sides, as per usual. Winning Time isn’t beholden to pure fact, as a fictionalized series. No one is disputing that, and HBO presumably has solid legal ground here. It’s also understandable that for Jerry West, being portrayed in a prestige series an asshole (against, it should be said, the accounts of many who worked with him during that era) is probably fairly frustrating.
The idea that this would end up in court at all still feels farfetched, much less surviving all the way to the Supreme Court itself as some sort of legal test case for the rules and ethics regarding biopics. And if anything, there’s a strong chance all of this is just serving to drum up more interest in the show than there would have otherwise been in a Streisand effect scenario.
Considering ratings are trending up, that could very well already be happening.