The early 1980's was a time when sports was about just fun competition and one team beating another. In hockey it was the Islanders and Oilers - two teams that reeked of talent. In baseball, it was more about players to me. Nolan Ryan, Carlton Fisk and "Mr. October" Reggie Jackson.
But basketball may have served up the best. Magic and Larry. Johnson and Bird. They single-handedly got me interested in basketball and for a good chunk of the 80's had me tuning into a sport that up until then had never really mattered to me.
Tonight's film - Magic & Bird: A Courtship Of Rivals
Magic & Bird: A Courtship Of Rivals (2010)
Rated: unrated (some strong racial content and a couple moments of profanity)
"The special traces the history of the competition between Los Angeles Lakers immortal "Magic" Johnson and Boston Celtics great Larry Bird, which began 30 years ago when they led their midwest universities to the 1979 NCAA Championship game, through a decade of dominance, when the two won three NBA MVP awards apiece and a combined eight NBA titles." (source: HBO)
Link to the film - I watched it online via Youtube
First of all, let me say that HBO - rocks! Thank you for putting some resources and effort into sports documentary programming. I love it. What I also love about HBO is that they've got Liev Schreiber to narrate. He's the voice of their 24/7 series that have been hugely popular over the past few years. His voice lends great to sports docs.
After a couple of back-and-forth clips from Johnson and Bird, the opening title sequence draws me in for a ride I'm excited to take. Some great still photo treatment blended with great textures and font styles - I'm only a couple minutes in and already I'm excited.
We are introduced to Magic and Larry as they meet in the 1979 NCAA Final. This is the first time that the two rivals would face-off and thus began a tremendous relationship. It's this game that acts as a launching point - taking us back to each player's childhood and upbringing. I really appreciate that a good amount of photos were used (there's nothing worse than a good doc spoiled by lack of footage or photos).
It's quickly evident that these two are absolute polar opposites, Magic is the outgoing showman while Bird is the enigmatic one who is very private. But for all the differences between the two of them, they also share some strong similarities. One of which is a dedication to the game and some very serious work ethic.
There are some moments as we learn about their childhood that I found very interesting and a couple times - shocking. I got the feeling that there was no subject that was off limits.
Something else that was focused on in the film (and was oblivious to me when I was seven) was just how critical to the NBA's future Johnson and Bird were. They came into the league at a time when the NBA was struggling with an identity issue. They just could not connect with fans and their television coverage was a joke. Magic and Bird literally saved the NBA.
And credit that to their early success. This is where I relived some of favorite moments as a kid watching the Lakers and Celtics play. Hollywood Showtime vs. Lunchbucket, Hard Working Grinders. The highlights were abundant and I was just taking it all in - loving every minute of it.
Magic, a champion in his first season while Bird followed up with a title in his second. These guys came in and immediately made an impact. So much so that the league in many ways revolved around them. And while the league grew, so did the level of competition between the two.
It was that drive to out-do the other that really created a dislike between the pair. And it all came to a head in the 1984 Finals where they met for the first time with the big prize on the line.
There was a moment that really made the film take on more than just a basketball role. It was when they were asked to film a Converse commercial together.
I never realized how critical to the game, to the fans and to each other this commercial shoot would become.
Each played out their career in very different ways and both remained true competitors until the end. And while the film doesn't focus on life for them after retirement, it is clear to see that they have the same amount of respect and mutual admiration for one another as they did throughout their playing days.
This doc is very well produced with not too much in terms of flashy graphics or fancy text, but it doesn't need it. Just having recent interviews of both Bird and Johnson is what acts as the solid thread throughout.
If there was one criticism, it would be that there is a lack of teammates who are involved in this doc. No Kareem, no Dennis Johnson, no Vlade. Sure, there's a decent representation (and I guess they do the job telling that aspect of the story), but it would have just felt more complete with these guys.
This was a very enjoyable documentary and a must-see for any fan of the NBA in the 80's. In fact - it's required viewing. For those of you with HBO, keep your eyes peeled...it might get an airing with the NBA season ramping up.
A great film for those of you who know saw them play.
4 out of 5
Here are some other reviews I found online for the film...
Next up...Touching The Void