Larry Bird, Magic Johnson’s Relationship Went Beyond On-Court Rivalry, Will Be Depicted in Upcoming Broadway Play


November 8, 2011

Larry Bird, Magic Johnson's Relationship Went Beyond On-Court Rivalry, Will Be Depicted in Upcoming Broadway PlaySitting on a large stool in front of a crowd of 30 or 40 basketball enthusiasts on Tuesday, Jackie MacMullan, a former columnist for The Boston Globe and author of the book When the Game Was Ours, recalled the day when Larry Bird was told that Magic Johnson had been killed in a car accident.

"Larry pulled over with his heart in his throat," MacMullan said. "That's when he knew they'd forever be connected."

The report was obviously erroneous, but Bird's emotional response went a great way toward showing what the superstars' friendship had become. Now, as a new play, Magic Bird, gets set to hit Broadway in Spring 2012, fans will get to relive the history of their epic rivalry and unique relationship.

"What [Larry Bird and Magic Johnson] presented to the public at the time was what everyone thought basketball ought to be," said Tommy Heinsohn, a former Boston Celtics player and coach and current broadcaster for CSN New England.

The upcoming Broadway play, produced by Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo, who also produced the hit play LOMBARDI, will transport the audience into the heart of the Bird-Magic saga.

Six actors will bring the rivalry to life with scenes and transitions designed to be as quick and as fast as the two legends in their primes.

And Bird's chief concern about the play?

"That it's authentic and accurate," Kirmser stressed.

Magic Bird will not only aim to feature actors who can depict the players' attitude and spirit, but it's slated to include actual footage of the rivalry blended into the production. According to Ponturo, they will sort through 11 DVDs and 30 hours of film that's available for use in the NBA archives in an effort to further enhance the final product.

"Watching [Larry Bird and Magic Johnson] play was like divine choreography. It was art," Kirmser said in a video presentation that was also shown on Tuesday night at Boston's West End Johnnie's.

MacMullan and Heinsohn are among those excited to see the Broadway special, as each has a long history covering the two superstars.

MacMullan's aforementioned book, which she said was originally designed to be a coffee table book before the initial publisher ran off with the money for it, put Bird and Magic's relationship into perspective for her. And she thinks it went a long way toward doing the same for them, as well.

"I almost think the book itself was a way to discover how much they meant to each other," MacMullan said.

Heinsohn, who scouted Bird and later broadcasted his first college game, said he considered the former Celtics star to be the Bobby Fischer of the NBA because "he was playing chess while everyone else was playing checkers."

Heinsohn also likened the Bird-Magic rivarly to that of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

Kirmser notes that the goal of Magic Bird is to create a unique experience — during which everyone can turn off their Blackberries and unwind — that shows off the side of Bird and Magic's relationship that people might not necessarily know about.

In fact, Magic Johnson himself is among the play's biggest supporters, encouraging viewers to "come out and have a magical evening."

All puns aside, if the Broadway production is a tenth as magical as the decade-plus we got to witness Bird and Magic battle, it could be a slam dunk.

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