EXCLUSIVE: Earvin "Magic" Johnson Talks About Magic/Bird, the Broadway Basketball Biography

By Kenneth Jones
07 Feb 2012

Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird

Can you point to the turning point where it went from rivalry to relationship?
EJ: It's always — even today and always will be — a rivalry, for sure! It doesn't matter if we laced 'em up right now, I'm still going to want to beat him and he's still going to want to beat me. [Laughs.] That will never die! So, I think the turning point was — I went to his house to shoot a Converse commercial and I was really upset because the year before, he had won the MVP. The next season, I had won, but Converse is making me fly to Indiana to shoot the commercial at his house. So, you know, I'm very upset. What's going on here? I got to go to his house to film my commercial! We were not on speaking terms at that time, so I'm saying, "Oh, my goodness. This is really crazy. What's going to happen to me? I'm going to Larry Bird's hometown and to his house." So, I went back and forth and finally I said, "Yes. I'll do it."

So, I get there, and it's got all of — what? — one or two stoplights in the whole city. A small town. And, so now I'm driving to his house. He has a lot of acres in land and the lawn is really beautiful. So, I get all the way down to the basketball court where we're going to shoot the commercial, so I get out and I asked him, "Well, where's my trailer?" So, I go to my trailer, and then they finally said, "Okay, it's time to come to talk with the director to see what you guys are supposed to do." So, we come to the basketball court and it's just so awkward, you know? It was just: "Hey." "Hey." [Laughs.] I thought, "Am I going to escape out of here today, or what?" Then we started the shoot. First it was a car scene. After the car scene, we had to do the on-the-court stuff. So, he said, "I want you to take Larry to the basket." I said, "Is this for real?!" [Laughs.] Because Larry's looking like, "I'm not going to let him just drive and score on me." Now, we're getting ready to get serious. [Laughs.] So, the director's like, "No, no… This is just... Larry, we're acting now. Magic, we're acting."

So, we did that scene and then, finally, it's lunchtime. This is what really changed our relationship. He had so many acres that he had those four-wheelers — ATVs. He gets on one. I get on one. So, I'm trailing him up to his house because that's where lunch was going to be served. We walk in and his mother came over, "Oh, Earvin!" Hugged me, kissed me. I'm like, "Oh, wow." I'm getting this type of great reception from his mom, you know? So, we sit down and then his mother is just going on. She knew my stats, she knew me. I'm like, "Wow!" So, I'm blown away, so it made me sort of relax. So, she brought the lunch over. We're sitting there and talking. I'm asking him about the house and asking him about the lawn, and he shocked me. I almost fell off my chair! I said, "Yeah, man. Whoever cuts your lawn does a wonderful job." He said, "Yeah, me." I said, "Wait a minute… what? You're cutting — what — ten acres? 15 acres? This has got to be 10-15 acres!" He said, "Yeah, I cut my own grass." I'm like, "Wow." So now we're laughing. It just broke the ice. Here, we went from Bird and Magic, the basketball players, to now Bird and Magic, the men. He asked me questions about Lansing and my family. I'm asking him questions. It was hard to get us back to the commercial shoot. We were giggling and laughing like two little boys. That was really what changed our relationship — that lunch, his mom, him knowing me as "Earvin" and not as "Magic," and myself really knowing him as "Larry."

His mom really melted the ice, didn't she?
EJ: Yeah, she was the one. It's something how mothers can see things, you know? Like, "these guys probably need me." [Laughs.] "Let me bring these two guys together." And she was just wonderful, I tell you. It reminded me of my own mother — how sweet, kind, how thoughtful, how my mom is a big basketball fan, she is a fan. I'm sitting here, I swear it was my mother talking to us, and it was Larry's mom.

This sounds like a great scene. It should be in the play.
EJ: Yeah, it is. It's in the play.

You've read the play, right? A draft of the play?
EJ: Yeah, I can't tell you everything, but I can tell you that one scene is in there. [Laughs.]