Saturday evening at 8 pm PT, HBO Sports will premiere their original documentary Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals. I had a chance to view an advance copy, and it's absolutely fantastic. Incredibly well done, and a must-view for Lakers and basketball fans alike.
The film tells the story of the unlikely friendship between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and how it developed out of an intense rivalry on the court, beginning before either arrived in the NBA. Both of the principals involved are incredibly open and revealing- particularly the notoriously guarded Bird- and the story put together about these two iconic figures of basketball history, touching on issues of race, HIV, and more, is deeply compelling.
Meanwhile, it was a rivalry instrumental in constructing the thriving NBA machine we know today.
To get more background on the project and the era itself, we spoke at length with Ezra Edelman, who produced the film, and veteran sportswriter Steve Springer, who covered the Lakers for nearly 20 years for the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times.
In Part I, we talk about the downtrodden state of the NBA before these two arrived, the development of the "Magic" persona and the differences between Magic and Earvin Johnson, a delineation explored in the documentary. Plus how Bird's incredible intensity impacted the development of the film, and what might have happened had circumstances seen Bird drafted by L.A. and Magic sent to Boston in 1979.
Part II explores the deep racial issues so important to the context of the rivalry between both Magic and Bird and the Lakers and Celtics generally. Bird's designation as "The Great White Hope" was one assigned to him, but something he wanted nothing to do with. After, we move into Magic's landmark announcement of his HIV status, and how he, Bird, and the basketball community responded.
The world was a very different place in 1991, but while many distanced themselves from Magic, Bird reached out.
Again, the doc debuts Saturday at 8 pm PT, but will be replayed throughout the month.