New play about basketball greats slotted for 2012

The Broadway-bound, NBA-backed production of basketball rivalry drama “Magic/Bird” is the second installment in what “Lombardi” producers Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo view as a potential legit franchise targeting the sports-fan demo.

Aiming for Broadway in 2012, the latest from “Lombardi” scribe Eric Simonson will follow the competitive relationship between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, two of the defining figures of basketball in the 1980s. Both Johnson and Bird will participate in the development of the script, meeting with Simonson for interviews that will feed into the six-character drama.

“Magic/Bird” is not related to “When the Game was Ours,” Jackie MacMullan’s 2009 book on the same subject, or to the docu “Magic and Bird: A Courtship of Rivals,” which aired on HBO last year.

Sports-themed play follows in the footsteps of this season’s “Lombardi,” a production that has never logged B.O.-busting sales figures but nonetheless has proven steady enough to outlast a number of fellow offerings from the fall lineup. Production opened in October with Dan Lauria in the role of influential football coach Vince Lombardi.

Kirmser came up with the idea for “Magic/Bird” as she and Ponturo began to think about a legit follow-up to “Lombardi” that would take sports as its subject. “We really do see this as a series or a genre,” she said.

Kirmser and Ponturo produce “Magic/Bird” in association with the National Basketball Assn., in what looks likely to mirror the arrangement the producers made with the NFL for “Lombardi.”

NBA is expected to provide access to historical footage and photographs, as well as promotional support targeting the hoops fans likely to be lured to the Rialto by the play.

The NFL helped land major national marketing opportunities for “Lombardi.” This year’s Super Bowl broadcast included a plug from announcer Howie Long as well as multiple segs of thesp Lauria portraying Lombardi. In an additional bump, the Green Bay Packers, the team Lombardi famously coached, won the Super Bowl this year.

“No question, the week after the Super Bowl we did very well, and this week we’ll do even better,” Ponturo said.

“Magic/Bird” is expected to be structured as a number of quickfire scenes, in an attempt to mirror the rapid back-and-forth of a basketball game. No director or cast is yet attached to the project.

Plays about sports have traditionally been a rarity, since there often isn’t much of an overlap of sports fans and theater avids. One of the more recent examples is 2002’s “Take Me Out,” Richard Greenberg’s play about a gay baseball player originally staged by the Donmar Warehouse in London.

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