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

For years, the passion they shared for winning made Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird the most bitter of rivals. It also made theirs the most compelling rivalry in sports, driving the NBA to new heights of popularity in the 1980s. Narrated by Liev Schreiber, this all-new documentary tells the riveting story of two superstars who couldn’t have been more different — until they forged an unlikely friendship from the superheated rivalry that had always kept them apart.

And that’s how “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals” is described on its back cover. HBO Entertainment did a nice job outlining the duo’s relationship starting with their joint appearance as part of Team USA’s warmup to the 1976 Olympics and their clash in the 1979 NCAA championship game all the way through their respective retirements.

By now, most basketball fans are aware of the rivalry/friendship that Magic and Larry developed over the years, but this 90-minute documentary digs deeper into each man’s personality and puts their relationship into context based on what was going on in the country at that particular time. Bird was extremely introverted and for much of his career it wasn’t his style to be friends with an opponent. Meanwhile, Magic was an extrovert and loved being loved, so when Bird snubbed Magic before the NCAA title game, the relationship was purely adversarial for several years. That loss bothered Bird for years, and it wasn’t until Converse convinced the two players to shoot a commercial (in French Lick, Indiana, on Bird’s request) did the two men actually become friends.

The documentary also covers each player’s childhood, Larry’s first day with the Celtics, how their rivalry became fodder for racists in Boston and around the country, Larry’s reaction to Magic’s HIV revelation, and how their unselfish style of play effectively saved the NBA. The film relies heavily on interviews with the two players, and it’s refreshing to hear them describe the different milestones in their relationship in their own words. It’s funny, emotional and for those of us that grew up watching the two superstars battle in the Finals — plenty of nostalgia.

The only knock is the complete lack of bonus features on the DVD, so for viewers who have already seen the film on HBO, there isn’t any extra content to dig into. But that’s just a small gripe — on the whole, “Magic & Bird” is an outstanding production.

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