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Professor Roy Gutterman L'00 Provides Analysis of Potential Libel Suit for Jerry West against HBO

Posted on Monday 5/2/2022

Professor of Law Roy Gutterman L'00, director of Syracuse University's Tully Center for Free Speech, recently discussed former Los Angeles Lakers player and executive Jerry West’s threatened defamation suit against HBO over his depiction in “Winning Time” series. 

West claims that the series incorrectly implies that he made poor decisions as the general manager of the team during the 1980s, depicting him as prone to violent outbursts and unable to hide his drinking at work. According to the Law 260 article and letter from West’s lawyer, “he is demanding a retraction, an apology and assurances he won't be cast in such a damaging light in the second season of the recently renewed show.”

Some legal scholars, including Gutterman, have watched the show and believe it might be difficult for West to prove his case. "If he goes forward with this, it's not going to be an easy path for him," said Gutterman, adding libel-in-fiction lawsuits are "usually not very successful."

West would need to prove that HBO acted maliciously in its depictions of him for a successful suit.

"Anybody that's watching this and expecting everything to be a documentary, and 100% authentic and truthful isn't watching the show the way you should," Gutterman said. "In the last episode, there was also an animated leprechaun. If that isn't an indication that you're looking at something that is taking poetic license, I don't know what is."