HBO // 2010 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 16th, 2010
They revolutionized the sport and formed an unbreakable bond.
Magic and Bird. Have two words ever transmitted such a hefty load of sports lore? The history, the cultural significance, the athletic achievement; it's all soaked up in those two legendary names.
I'm a big basketball fan, but to my chagrin I plugged into the pro sport too late to appreciate the amazing rivalry these guys had formed. By the time I was paying attention, Bird spent his games lying on his stomach on the sidelines nursing his back and Magic had created shockwaves with his surprise retirement announcement.
While I was privy to the impact they had on the game, as well as their omnipresence in soda commercials and Sega Genesis video games, I never fully grasped the depth of their connection and the effect they had on the NBA.
Thankfully, HBO is here with a fantastic documentary to fill in the gaps, and if you even have a passing interest in these two American icons you need to add this to your collection.
A Courtship of Rivals tracks the two men from their childhood to their retirement, separating their stories and eventually intertwining them when fate places them on the court together. We go from Magic's simple upbringing in Lansing, Michigan to Bird's dirt-poor early life in French Lick, Indiana to their high school and college careers (capped with the NCAA championship) and finally to the Lakers and the Celtics.
What Rivals excels at is juxtaposing these two personas, the made-for-Hollywood flash and charisma of Magic set against the shy, introverted farm boy in Boston. Their incredible skill on the basketball court drew them together in the national conversation, but it was their personality differences and ruthless competitiveness that made them such compelling subjects.
I learned a lot about the two that I didn't know before: the source of Larry's tweaked back, Magic's epic sexual trysts (six women at a time he admitted to Chris Wallace!), the tragedy surrounding Bird's father, the origin of Magic's nickname, the flashpoint of racial tension that had been built around their relationship (somewhat artificially it seems), the emotional fallout from Magic's revelation that he had contracted HIV, the extent to which Bird was suffering in the final four years of his career. This is a treasure haul of trivia that will more than satisfy fans.
Yet it also serves a more important purpose of "Hey, I didn't know that!" These nuggets of info flesh out two men who had for most of their career served as larger-than-life figures. As it turns out, Magic Johnson isn't simply a Hollywood playboy and Larry Bird isn't the Great White Hype. They are two of the fiercest competitors to ever take to the hardwood, warriors who forged their will to excel by measuring themselves against the guy on the opposite coast. And, as this outstanding documentary shows us, neither would have become the legends they are now had it not been for the other.
The DVD is simple: an attractive 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, 2.0 stereo and, unfortunately, no extras.
Not Guilty. I don't care if you hate basketball, this is a great film and you
should see it.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated