Magic/Bird is a play that comes about 15 years too late, telling a story that has a definite beginning with a compelling middle, but struggles to find where to conclude. It’s a story that has its dramatic moments, but isn’t best told on the stage. So it comes as no surprise that the play was shut out of the Tony’s this year, and will shut its doors for good on May 12 after opening just a month earlier.
To be sure, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson dominated all of the headlines of the mid-80s, as their heated rivalry from college extended into the NBA. The Celtics and Lakers were regulars in the finals during that decade, and the two played each other in some of the most memorable games that resurrected a stagnant NBA.
But how many memories have been made since those times? Sports is an ever evolving spotlight where names come and go. Magic and Bird haven’t played a game since the early 90s, and since then, names like Jordan, Kobe and Lebron have captured our imaginations. Had this play come out in 1995, it would be timely theater. Now? It seems like something best suited for a Saturday afternoon on ESPN Classic. Anyone under the age of 30, which is a key demographic of the NBA, isn’t likely to latch on to this play.
This isn’t to say that the play didn’t have its moments. It was interesting to learn how the two bitter rivals came to be the best of friends over time. Kevin Daniels (Magic Johnson) and Tug Coker (Larry Bird) do an admirable job in their rolls. You could feel the emotion when Magic told the world about HIV, and you could also feel the bond between the two when Bird, a man of few words, offered his helping hand.
I could’ve done without the racial overtones of the play. Surely, there was a lot of black versus white rhetoric when the Lakers met the Celtics during the 80s, but the issue was raised at the start and never fully explored or developed. For something that is so charged, its best to either go full force with it or not mention it at all.
The ending also left something to be desired. Now in the twilight of their careers, the two agreed to play on the 1992 Dream Team together. There isn’t a particularly poignant moment here, especially compared to some of the other things that happened. It just seemed like the writers had to pick a place to end, and this was as good a place as any. That isn’t necessarily a knock on the writers. Magic/Bird isn’t really a story that was meant for the stage.