NEW YORK, NY – The Longacre Theater, whose name harkens to the original name of Times Square, is apropos for a play that longs to capture the most famous basketball rivalry of the 1980s, Larry Bird and his Celts to Magic Johnson and the Lakers.
Sports aficionados will appreciate the sometimes-humorous caricatures that were made out of Magic and Bird and their sometimes-overzealous fans. “A Lakers fan walks into a bar…” is made real here, especially when the bar is in Boston.
But the play’s producers, who have brought sports to Broadway before, reveal what may have been an equal intent of the play: to paint a picture not only of the players but of the society that made them.
We are introduced to the business side of the game — the coaches and owners, the decisions and dealings that led to the hire of two basketball giants. We catch a glimpse of each team’s struggle to accept such high-stakes players into their locker room.
The pre-Internet media frenzy that Magic Johnson actively created got a huge boost from Larry Bird as a professional and personality counterpoint. On the Longacre stage, both Magic’s public ebullience and Bird’s Midwestern calm are perfectly played.
Making good use of the forty-foot stage, lockers and basketball nets and 80s footage displayed on multi-depth screens capture as much as they can of the basketball court’s life-size excitement.
What makes this play most deserving of recognition from the sporting community is the way it presents the parallels of two young professionals, their historic rise over a decade, and the shared story that kept them friends during tragic career ends for each of them.
Their personalities were revealed as much an outgrowth of their background as a response to the media shark-tank they lived in, with one embracing it loudly and the other walking out the back door.
American audiences may not be used to a complex tapestry of a story, where there is no winner and no loser, but only two human beings whose lives were woven together by coaches and managers and history. But theatre-goers of the sporting sort, who appreciate what it means to be on the court, will equally appreciate Magic/Bird, a piece capturing the caricatures of the 80s and the society that made them.