My charmed, tormented life with Jerry West

“Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s,” by Jeff Pearlman, was adapted into a series for television in the HBO series “Winning Time”.

One of the scary things which I noticed as I’ve gotten older and done things and had success: people rationalize everything they do, good or evil – MOSTLY evil.

We really needed to pick up Amelia from dancing class, so we ran the red light.

We drunk too much, but nevertheless. Uncle Joey had one 37th birthday.

We see as the characters in our nonfiction books get more ridiculous for our amusement, yet

Okay.

Oh.

Right.

the last one. It’s me. At least, kind of me. I wrote “Showtime,” a book about the Lakers’ highs and lows of the 1980s, ten years ago. If I had my way, HBO optioned my work, and the network ran with “Winning Time,” a two-season series. To be blunt, I loved almost all of “Winning Time.” Sean Patrick Small as Larry Bird and Quincy Isaiah as Magic Johnson were two roles I loved. I LOVED Solomon Hughes’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Adrien Brody’s Pat Riley.

It brought back my favorite time in professional basketball but also did not forget to secure the generations of those ballers who lived when LeBron James was just a thought or Luka Doncic who came first. I was like WOW just with the writing AND detail from beginning until the end #WinningTime #Showtime. One early morning caller yesterday wanted to know what material National Basketball Association Summer League uniforms were made of in 1979.

“Why?” I asked.

Because, he said, we want to make them again.

jerry west

Even with all of the highs, one thing threw me just momentarily: the portrayal of the late Jerry West, the great Lakers guard and general manager who died last week at 86. His memoir, West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life, was a detailed account of his mood swings, anxiety, sadness and self-loathing. Well, all these years of sports journalism there certainly have been two guys that I have run into who had problems watching their own teams play. One was Billy Beane, the veteran general manager of the Oakland Athletics. And then there was West.

When the Lakers were playing, West could usually be found walking, stretching, nibbling at his nails and tapping his toes in the basement of the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. Or he might be sitting in his Buick in a mostly deserted parking lot, beating his fists into the steering wheel after every missed layup as he listened to the game on the radio.

In spite of the club’s fine 145-101 record, he couldn’t stand the pressures of managing the team for three seasons of the late 1970s. How could one of the greatest of all time, Jerry West, have patience to show journeymen like Earl Tatum and Dave Robisch how to shoot the jumper properly? No. He was driven nearly crazy.


Jason Clarke was a tremendous West in “Winning Time.” Hell, that’s really awesome. His strides, his slight West Virginia drawl, and his total passion for the Lakers were spot on. In one place in the pilot, West tells team officials that Sidney Moncrief of Arkansas would be a better pick than Johnson of Michigan State as the first selection in ’79 draft.

He’s too tall, ” West answers a concerned question from Jerry Buss, played by John C. Reilly, with about as much sincerity as he could muster.
Buss and most within earshot guffaw at the suggestion and West flies off the handle. “I f—-ing busted my shaft, Pedro!” he snaps, storming off and snapping his golf club in two.

I still chuckled every time I saw the scene popping up on my screen; it is funny stuff, really. But, again, it is not real. That moment never occurred. Pedro was never there, and while West really did disagree with drafting Johnson-he had few poor personnel decisions-but he never did so by confronting Buss at a golf course. Later in the episode, for instance, Buss also tells West to get an alcohol that doesn’t give bad breath-breath all shown while West is shown to have thrown the 1969 Finals MVP trophy through his office window-a scene obviously manufactured for the purpose.

West swears, growls and snaps and even bites throughout the series. It’s amazingly good television. For my money, Clarke was the showstopper. But in real life, West wasn’t a biter, a snapper, a snarler or a cuss er. If ever he could be prone to outbursts, then he was a burdened, tormented, disturbed man who primarily internalised his troubles. Also, he was a life long devoted basket-ball player. He welcomed the variety of the game he loved.

As the creator of the source material, and also a showrunner, I found myself going out in public, defending Clarke’s West with rationalizations like, “It’s an homage,” and “This is how the medium works.” But sitting here, at the point where West is now dead, I wonder if that was me being honest, or if it was someone who had the golden ticket that was the HBO show, justifying something she enjoyed and profited off of at the same time.

To be honest, I really don’t know.

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