“Magic/Bird” opened on Broadway this week. It's a play about two basketball legends, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, that goes beyond the usual sports saga. The famous athletes are played by young, and very tall, actors.
This sports arena introduction of basketball Hall-of-Famers Earvin Magic Johnson and Larry Bird sets the stage for a drama about a ferocious rivalry that turned into friendship.
After seeing the script, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird gave the green light.
“I had a chance to witness a reading live with the actors and everything. Oh, Wow. It blew me away," said Magic Johnson.
Magic and Bird are two of the greatest players in the history of professional basketball. Magic starred for the Los Angeles Lakers and Bird for the Boston Celtics.
The drama takes the audience from their college days through the 1992 Olympics.
Bird’s back problems ended his career while Magic’s ended after he contracted HIV.
On stage, Magic Johnson is played by Kevin Daniels.
“Whether you are a basketball fan or not, everyone can identify with being the best that you can be, and then excelling at that, and finding that same desire in someone else," said Daniels.
Tug Coker plays Larry Bird. He himself is a former college basketball player. As a child, he loved the Boston Celtics and especially Larry Bird.
“I just wish that I had a little more of Bird's sort of mental toughness, his hard work and dedication," said Coker. "Maybe I could have been a little better. Jeez, he’s amazing!”
The play shows how the men were fiercely competitive. But they came to respect and value each other after a chance meeting off the court.
Even as they remained rivals on the court, their friendship grew.
Today, they care deeply about each other.
Thomas Kail, a young but seasoned Broadway director, says life is more than baskets and game highlights.
“What we are interested in, what happens when the game is over," said Kail. "What happens after the career is over? How do these men who have been elevated learn to walk among us again?"
Many who attended the previews were touched by what they saw.
“Just the dynamic of how they grew to hate each other, then grew to really love each other and adore each other," said Jason Hernandez from Los Angeles. "It’s really an emotional play at times.”
“I was just so touched about the two men and their relationship," said Joanie Watkins, from New York.
The producers say finding two actors who are each more than two meters tall and can act while dribbling a basketball was a challenge.
A challenge they met.