HBO | 2010 | 90 mins. | MA

As a huge basketball fan on the East coast, my blood runs Celtic green. As a kid growing up in the late 1970’s and ‘80’s, I looked forward to every game between the ‘Showtime’ Lakers and the more workman-like Celtics. The two team’s styles were completely different, but the goa; was the same: come home with a win.

The debate over who is/was the greatest basketball player ever will likely never end. New talents are constantly burning up the league. Kids these days would probably lean toward Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, while older fans might point to Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. I’ve always believed Michael Jordan to be the greatest, but after watching Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals from HBO Home Entertainment, you just might believe as I do, that the passage of time has given these two legends short shrift.

Magic & Bird – A Courtship of RivalsEarvin Johnson was a blue collar kid from Lansing, MI, who tells viewers he´d play basketball so much that his mother would occasionally bring meals to him outside. Raised by a General Motors assembly line worker and a school custodian, he received his now famous nickname at age 15, riding his skills and swagger to a state championship with Everett High School. Magic wound up close to home at Michigan State University before being drafted as the number one pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979.

Larry Bird was a rather introverted kid from Indiana, and despite his mother´s attempts to provide for her children, the family lived in poverty. Bird´s connection to his family was the foundation in his life until he discovered basketball in high school. Showing up before dawn and staying after dark, the sport became the center of his life. His high school success earned him a scholarship to Indiana University, where he stayed for 24 days before dropping out. Bird´s father Joe drank heavily, leading to a divorce from his wife and an eventual suicide. After taking time to work a blue-collar job for the city of French Lick, Bird enrolled at Indiana State University, a school that had never played in the NCAA Tournament. Things changed the year Bird arrived, and the school wound up 33-0 with a birth in the National Championship game against Michigan State.

Johnson and Bird battled each other for the NCAA Championship in 1979. Magic´s Spartans defeated Bird´s Sycamores in what, even after all these years, Bird still calls the single worst loss of his entire basketball career. Shortly thereafter, Bird was drafted third overall by the Boston Celtics. Bird won the 1980 Rookie of the Year Award (even though Magic´s Lakers won the 1980 NBA Title and Magic was named NBA Finals MVP).  The rivalry had begun. Bird would the Celtics to the championship in 1981, but Magic and the Lakers took the crown in 1982. All in all, the pair met three times in the 1984, 1985 and 1987 NBA Finals (the Celtics second win came in 1984).

Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals provides a great deal of biographical information on both players, both on and off the court. Unlike a lot of documentaries about famous people, HBO serves to humanize both men and in the process increased my admiration for them. Aside from Magic and Larry, many sports fans will recognize some of the interviewees: Pat Riley, Kevin McHale, and Cedric Maxwell among others. However, when all is said and done this is a great story about a fierce rivalry that evolved into a lifelong friendship.

HBO has provided a solid16:9 video transfer. The individual interviews with players and journalists are well lit and clear, while the still photos and actual game footage used to tell the story looks vibrant and bright despite age. Little grain is visible, and the image shines on its own accord.

The documentary can be viewed with an English or Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 audio soundtrack and corresponding subtitles. There´s occasional inspirational music in the background of a photomontage, but it doesn´t dominate or overwhelm. Everything remains sharp and full.

Unfortunately, there are no special features.

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