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Review: “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals”

The new HBO documentary “Magic & Bard: A Courtship of Rivals” premiered Monday night to an invite-only crowd at the Garden, and the early reviews are good if not mega-enthusiastic. People agree that hard core C’s (and Lakers) fans won’t learn much new about the history of the rivalry, but they will enjoy seeing both players open up a bit.

• Red’s Army scored a plus-one ticket through a friend, and has a review with some photos and video:

There were some great moments in the film where Magic would recount how he tried to approach Larry here and there and Larry was… how do I put this delicately… a bit of douche.  And then they’d cut to Larry and he’d say “yeah… that was all me.  I didn’t want anything to do with him.”  Just fantastic.

• Dan Devine has a review up on BDL:

Bird does loosen up a bit, and to great effect. He repeatedly scores laughs with caustic lines — asked how he thought Magic felt after his Lakers fell to Bird’s Celtics in the 1984 NBA Finals, Bird deadpans, “I hope he was hurt; I hope it killed him” — and curt observations about the nature of his competitive drive, noting that nearly as important as defeating an opponent is “knowing the other guy’s suffering.”

Luckily for us, loyal C-Hub reader Marko Anderson (whose frequent comments liven up our little site) also scored a ticket and wrote up his thoughts. Take it away, Marko:

As a recent Boston transplant with dual Canadian-Finnish citizenship, Sunday was my fandom equivalent of death by a million papercuts. The Celtics lost a big game to the Nuggs, the Canadians got thrashed by the Americans in Olympic hockey, and, rather than quit while I was behind, I stayed up to the wee hours to witness the Finns get spanked by historic overlords Sweden.

So what better way to spend the Monday night than heading down to the Garden for the premier of the HBO movie “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals”….at least your team can’t lose when it’s only a movie…..right?

Not knowing any background, I mistakenly thought the movie was based on the recent book “When the Game was Ours”—it wasn’t, but that book’s author, Jackie MacMullan, features prominently in the movie. Overall, I was just hoping for a glory-days highlight package of Bird, Magic & Co. beating each other into submission to lift my spirits.

They had a massive movie screen hovering over the freethrow line and the seating was limited to the section behind the baseline. The hoopla started with some words from C’s owner Wyc Grousbeck, the president of HBO Sports and Paul Pierce, as well as a brief intro and standing ovation for newcomers Nate Robinson and Marcus Landry. You could really feel the hope and anticipation that Larry might show up. He didn’t, but the Legend’s absence didn’t take any shine off the night.

Pierce (introduced as “the defending 3-point champion”) gave a really nice talk about how, as a kid growing up in LA as a Lakers fan, the Celts-Lakers rivalry had a powerful effect on how he connected to the game and got his competitive juices flowing at a young age. Pierce fondly told the story of his favorite Magic-Bird anecdote—the now infamous (first) meeting between the two to shoot a Converse commercial together in Larry’s backyard in French Lick (this moment is definitely one of the gems of the movie as well). Then with one group chant of “Beat LA”, the lights dimmed, and the film rolled.

Any basketball fan from those days already knows the basketball storyline that started with the highest-rated NCAA final and peaked with the popular breakout of the NBA through the Celtics-Lakers rivalry. But the movie was about much more than that; it was a story about Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson, the people. About how two individuals who appeared to be polar opposites in every way ended up coming full circle as yin and yang. The movie starts from their early childhoods and continues through to the present day, and was loaded with lots of classic clips, pictures and running commentary from Larry, Magic and others who were close to them.

The movie didn’t shy away from some of the big issues (including race) that stirred a lot of the perceptions of the Magic-Bird rivalry, but not at the expense of some serious servings of comedy (Larry’s deadpan and Magic’s infectious glow). I came away from the movie thinking that basketball just happened to be the common thread that brought these two very different—yet very similar—people together. Even if you are major fan and think you have read everything there is to read, the movie exposed the depth of the personalities in a way the printed word never could. It would be impossible to come away from this movie and not feel you know the guys a whole lot better.

A must see for any basketball fan, but definitely accessible and enjoyable for a much wider audience (read: very girlfriend/wife/nonhoopsjunkie-friendly).

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  • Rav

    Good stuff Marko!

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    This was the best movie I have ever I’am not the biggest fan of basketball, its history nor documentaries but this really captured my eye I recommend all to watch :)

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  • Dajamel

    I thought the documentary was outstanding. It held my attention the entire time. Both Magic and Byrd deserve credit for helping build the other’s career because if they were not so competitive against each other, neither would probably has been as great as they were. Watching this documentary shed a new light on this subject for me. It was very touching when Magic cried when he recalled how Byrd reached out to him when he learned of his HIV diagnosis and when Byrd fought back tears before the start of one of this games when he thought of Magic and his condition. When the segment was shown when Magic announced his HIV diagnosis, I was moved to tears just as I had been when I first heard the story. We all thought he was just being strong and giving the “politically correct” responses, but look at him now. Both Magic and Byrd are great guys who deserve all the credit for rebuilding the NBA. Great story!

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    For a documentary this is really good, worth the watch.

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