The story of the NBA Hall of Famer’s rivalry and friendship with Larry Bird is coming to Broadway in Magic/Bird, set to open in April. The two consulted in its production, and Johnson can’t wait to watch their story told.
His “Showtime” Lakers of the 1980s were a Hollywood hit, and now he’s ready to see his name in Broadway’s lights.
“I guess it’s the real Showtime,” Johnson said. “When you think about Broadway and you think about Larry and I being on Broadway, it’s definitely at its highest level and I don’t think either one of us thought that we would be on Broadway.”
It’s the second in a planned series of sports-themed plays from producers Tony Ponturo and Fran Kirmser, the team behind Lombardi. Kirmser said even before that show’s success, they wanted to tell the story of Johnson and Bird, who started as rivals in college and finished as Olympic teammates and longtime friends.
They reached out initially to Johnson, who first brought his wife, Cookie, to see Lombardi before committing. Then it was on to Bird, who, just like with the Dream Team 20 years earlier, wanted to first know that Johnson was on board.
“That’s normally how it usually works with us,” Johnson said.
Friendships between rivals is nothing new in today’s NBA, where players seem just as eager to team up with a foe than beat him. But the fact that Johnson and Bird became friends was surprising even to them.
Their rivalry started when Johnson’s Michigan State team knocked off Bird’s Indiana State squad for the 1979 NCAA championship. Bird, the reserved white guy from Indiana, would then end up in Boston, while Johnson, outgoing, black and made for the big city, went to the Lakers, who had never beaten the Celtics in the NBA Finals.
They met for the championship three times as pros, with the Lakers winning twice. But along the way, what started as hatred had softened, to the point that Bird said he lost some of his drive once Johnson retired for the first time in 1991 after contracting the HIV virus.