You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals

Another one of those scintillating documentaries that give grown men an excuse to cry.

Thanks, HBO Sports, for another one of those scintillating documentaries that give grown men an excuse to cry, if only in the safety of their living rooms. “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals” is a walk down memory lane with two basketball legends, sure, but it’s simultaneously a look at an unlikely friendship between two guys who couldn’t be more different, except for their extraordinary skills on the court. Teeming with carefully selected clips and interviews — and welcome insight into the sociology of the NBA and indeed America in the 1980s — for hoops aficionados, it’s fan-tastic.

The introductions to “a rivalry that transformed a sport, and intertwined two legacies” go back to Larry Bird’s youth as a painfully shy kid whose father committed suicide, and Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s as a gregarious sort who naturally gravitated toward the spotlight. They faced off in the 1979 NCAA championship game, then took their ongoing battle to the NBA, where Bird was affixed with a tag he didn’t care for as the mostly African-American league’s “great white hope.” (Even Johnson, reminiscing about playing with Bird in an all-star game in the ’70s, describes him as “the baddest white dude I’ve ever seen in my life.”)

The next half-hour or so is sheer sports-fan nirvana, tracing the epic history of the Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers matchups in the 1980s — as well as its part in race relations, given Boston’s uneasy racial history and Bird’s prominence as the town’s marquee player.

The last segment, however, might be the most moving, chronicling how the two bitter on-court rivals gradually became friends, beginning during time they spent together shooting a shoe commercial. During that encounter, Bird discovered, “I like Earvin a lot better than Magic.” And Johnson tears up when he relates how Bird was among the first to call when the Lakers star announced that he had contracted HIV and would be retiring from basketball.

In addition to tying in with a related book, “When the Game Was Ours,” the timing could hardly be better, coming as a sort of tip-off to the NCAA basketball tournament.

These HBO docs have become one of TV’s most reliable pleasures — and a rare bastion of sobriety in a cable-verse where sports analysts always seem to be shouting at the top of their lungs. By contrast, Liev Schrieber’s narration is as soothing as a warm blanket, and for those who grew up or grew old watching these dazzling talents trade baskets and no-look passes, don’t be surprised if there’s a bit of furtive dabbing at the eyes before the buzzer sounds.

Popular on Variety

Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals

Docu; HBO, Sat. March 6, 8 p.m.

Production: Produced by HBO Sports. Executive producers, Ross Greenburg, Rick Bernstein; producer, Ezra Edelman; senior producer, Joe Lavine; writers, Aaron Cohen, Eric Drath; editor, Charlie Olivier; music, Gary Lionelli. 90 MIN. Narrator: Liev Schrieber.

More Scene

  • Cara Delevingne'Carnival Row' TV show premiere,

    Cara Delevingne Talks Immigration, Taylor Swift's Battle With Scooter Braun

    Cara Delevingne, whose faerie character in “Carnival Row” finds herself washed ashore as a refugee in a foreign land, said she was immediately drawn by the show’s fantastical take on issues of immigration and assimilation. “It’s a cause that I have been involved in for a long time,” Delevingne told Variety at the premiere of [...]

  • John Travolta, Fred Durst. John Travolta,

    John Travolta Recalls Fans Breaking Into His House: 'I Was Scared the First Time'

    Nobody can accuse John Travolta of not being gracious to his fans, whether it’s an autograph, a selfie or, you know, a home invasion or two. “I’ve only had two people that actually invaded my house,” Travolta told Variety at the premiere of “The Fanatic” at the Egyptian Theater on Thursday night. “They were just [...]

  • Sublime Primetime

    How Emmy-Nominated Writers’ Rooms Keep Politics in Mind

    In a world filled with elections, social movements and national tragedies, how open should the doors of a writers’ room actually be? For some of this year’s Emmy-nominated shows, those doors are wide open. Before the 71st annual Primetime Emmy Awards air on Sept. 22, the Writers Guild of America West and Writers Guild Foundation, [...]

  • 50 Cent Power S6 Premiere

    50 Cent, Snoop Dogg & Trey Songz 'Power' Up New York City for Massive Season 6 Premiere

    “Power” is entering its final season, but you would never know if you walked by Madison Square Garden in Manhattan on Tuesday night. Starz pulled out all the stops for its ratings powerhouse “Power,” throwing a massive premiere event, complete with a full-length concert at Madison Square Garden from Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and a [...]

  • Diane Warren'Late Night' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    Songs of Hope to Honor Diane Warren, Marc Shaiman, Boi-1da, More at 15th Annual Event

    Cancer research and treatment center City of Hope today announced the initial lineup of presenters and honorees who will celebrate the song and songwriter at its 15th annual Songs of Hope event. Among the music and entertainment industry VIPs in attendance will be veteran executive and producer Clive Davis, producer Boi-1da (Drake, Kendrick Lamar), award-winning [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content