Guest Column: Lyons on Magic/Bird on Broadway

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By TERRY LYONS

NEW YORK, APRIL 6, 2012 — There’s a common belief that when someone passes from this earth, their life passes before their eyes in an instant. If that is the case, together with one of my best friends in the world, I can now attest to living through that experience when we attended Magic/Bird on Broadway last Wednesday afternoon. For 90 minutes, we must’ve been out cold because our basketball lives passed right in front of our eyes at the Longacre Theatre in New York.

Magic/Bird was phenomenal!

Get that?

Magic/Bird on Broadway is PHENOMENAL! OUTSTANDING! They nailed it, like an LBird three-pointer at the buzzer. Magic/Bird gives a new meaning to the term “Showtime.” The play is 90 minutes in theatre-going and basketball heaven for anyone who appreciates the life and times of Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird.

For full disclosure, I was fortunate enough to have a courtside seat during the Magic/Bird era of the NBA as I worked at the league office while my buddy, Josh, not only witnessed history at the Los Angeles Lakers front office, he helped create it. We worked during two of the three great eras of professional basketball, those being the Wilt Chamberlain/Bill Russell (which we watched on black & white TVs as kids growing up), then we experienced the Magic/Bird and Michael Jordan eras live and in color. While I worked with both Bird and Johnson at all of their NBA All-Star Game appearances, all of their NBA Finals duels and every minute of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, my friend worked every one of those days right next to Magic Johnson, at every game, every practice, every flight, every bus ride, every appearance, every interview request or just say, every second of Showtime’s 24/7/365 schedule.

Those facts gave us a bit of skepticism towards the daunting task facing Magic/Bird producers Tony Ponturo and Fran Kirmser as they set out to execute their vision of staging of a live Broadway play about the rivalry and relationship between two of the NBA’s icons, two of the players an entire generation of basketball fans grew up with on our journey through life as baby-boomers. Of course, as most know, Bird and Magic were polar opposites in terms of their personalities and love of the limelight. But, Ponturo and Kirmser relied on a successful experience of staging “Lombardi” on Broadway and they mobilized the very same team of playwright Eric Simonson and director Tommy Kail to bring Magic/Bird to life.

To protect readers and to refrain from putting up a “spoiler alert” this writer will, instead make a few very general comments on the play.

The Longacre Theatre is a wonderful venue. It is rather small and intimate. It has an unbelievable sports history for those who know that baseball immortal Babe Ruth was sold by then Red Sox owner Harry Frazee to the New York Yankees in 1919 to finance the show “My Lady Friends,” which begot the musical “No, No Nanette” in 1925. Guess where “No, No Nanette” was staged?

The theatre going experience for a dramatic play on Broadway is always well staged with the best lighting, set design and theatrical razzle-dazzle in the world. The Magic/Bird stage and set design is ingenious. The use of live acting and reliance on historical footage from the vast library of NBA Entertainment was perfectly thought-out and perfectly executed.

It is best to see this play “cold.” Don’t attend with any preconceived notions or expectations. If you like to breathe air, you’ll love the show. It’s that simple. You do not have to be a basketball fan, you do not have to be a broadway theatre-goer, you don’t have to recite the stats and history of the Magic/Bird era of competition, nor know their rivalry began well before their professional careers. The script and the actors take care of all that. Just go in, sit down, sit back and be prepared for an experience that might strike deep emotions, might teach you a thing or two about life, might make your spine tingle, as it did to me, as the curtain went up.

That feeling of a spine-tingling, shivers-up-your-back feeling is so rare these days at any event, sports, theatre, concerts, whatever. It will happen to every single ticket holder of Magic/Bird.

The actors are spectacular. Again, for anti-spoiler alert reasons, I will not go into details but will tip my hand. Like Clark Kent and Super Man, it is my belief that actor Tug Coker and Larry Bird have never been seen together. The only question on the acting is whether the whole cast takes home as many TONYs as Adele took home GRAMMYs. And, no, I am not overstating it.

Magic/Bird is to Broadway what “Rocky” was to the motion pictures, except the script of Magic/Bird and its important messages about incredibly important occurrences in our lives just blows away a story of an underdog boxer from Philly. Keep in kind, Earvin “Magic” johnson taught an entire generation of people about living with the HIV virus and by doing so, he might have saved more lives than anyone else on the planet.

Magic/Bird is to Broadway what “Almost Famous” was to rock and roll music, a coming of age through a screenplay worthy of an Oscar, like Cameron Crowe’s brilliant, self-revealing tale of his own upbringing and dream chasing.

My last comment stems from a recently read recommendation on pitch-writing for entrepreneurs. The advice for the would-be, could-be pitchmen, is to state the first eight words of a pitch in grand fashion to make or break the entire presentation. Here are my eight words which will be the last eight of this preview instead of the first eight.

You have to go see this frickin’ play!

RATING
On a one to four star rating – Magic/Bird gets either #32 or #33 stars.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Terry Lyons worked at the NBA from Dec. 1980 to Sept. 2007. He stepped down from his post in the NBA Communications department to relocate to Boston and is now co-founder of MediaForward.tv and its digital production ventures which include http://www.digitalsportsdesk.com a labor of love).

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