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Saturday, November 7, 2015

'Magic & Bird: a courtship of rivals', 2 were the colours

Magic & Bird: a courtship of rivals

I just finished reading 'Cuando éramos los mejores' the Spanish translation of Jackie MacMullan's book 'When the game was ours', published by my dear friends of Contra (a publishing house focused on music and sports, amazing people, amazing books), so I thought it was the right time to watch this TV documentary broadcast on HBO, a film partially inspired by the book (MacMullan is one of the main experts interviewed here). What a pleasant week. A double feature of some of the best basketball EVER (arguably the best ever) played. Read, watch, and remember a much beloved time of my childhood-early teenage years being abducted by these two titans. My superheroes.

The documentary is a must for anyone who loves basketball, as it does a fine job of chronicling the unforgettable careers and, foremost, the unmatched rivalry between two of the biggest basketball legends EVER (and unarguably two of their best players). A tale of competition, obsession, respect, friendship and passion for a game that got saved, redefined, blossomed and rocketed to a planetary sport (the greatest one) thanks to them.

From tracing their humble origins in East Lansing, Michigan and French Lick, Indiana, to their first meeting at an international tournament to the first encounter as the greatest rivals at 1979 NCAA Basketball Championship Game, to the mythical Celtic-Lakers finals of the 80s, the story here is simply memorable. Not just the titles (5 for Magic, 3 for Bird), not just the epic of their triumphs, not just the way the saw the game (passing the ball, making their teammates better, always aiming to compete and win, day-by-day) not just the stats and the individual titles, but the sense of both unmatchable players constantly living parallel lives while pushing themselves to their limits. Reaching for the papers to check the numbers of the other, watching their games and getting frantic at the others wins. And, after the Converse commercial, even sharing a dramatic shift of their careers (back injury for Larry, VIH for Earvin) that forced both giants to cut short their formidable trajectories.  

Like a positive version of 'The prestige' a 'Courtship of rivals' does a fantastic job on portraying how a confrontation of incredible talents sparked a whole league to another level, and how a lasting friendship was built against all odds, against being opposite characters. It also explores the racial issues that were an important factor of the rivalry among the fans ('The Great White Hope' versus 'The Hollywood Smile', the redneck and the glamorous) and it's surprising, and refreshing, how both players haven't got anything to do with it. Bird in particular destroys the whole argument in his laconic explanation. They were also bigger than the media, league, their teams and social conventions & prejudices.

The movie doesn't rely on many outside opinions: MacMullan, Pat Riley, Kevin McHale, Michael Cooper, Magic's sister, Bird's brother, a few sportcasters. Simply there's no need for it, as the film has both main actors, keen to tell it in their own words. Magic with his trademark huge smile on his face and his smooth voice, Bird trying to dodge the camera, utterly shy, scared of revealing too much. And director's Ezra Edelman solid work overall is rewarded by a couple of mind blowing moments. When Magic can't held tears after recalling how he felt after Bird called him on the phone when he knew about his VIH infection. And when Bird says how much he liked Earvin's persona (out of the 'Magic' character). That's something than can be acted. Here's a real human, transcendent bound, that goes way beyond the ball.

But, as it usually happens, the book is better. Of course being such a huge basketball fan and such a devotee of both players, I would have loved much more game footage, but I assume Edelman considered that was already known, or easy to seek and watch. But that's secondary. The documentary fails short compared with the book because the second goes deeper in the minds and thoughts of Earvin and Larry, and MacMullan takes them (and us) on an exciting, rich, many times dark and tough too, trip. One where stats, plays, games, championships are not just entertainment, but life itself. The author delves in the VIH question, digging on Magic's marriage and exploring the icon's feelings about the reject and disappointing behaviour of so-called friends (Isaiah Thomas, Karl Malone, still hate them). The Barcelona Olympics (the question on legacy, the role of Michael Jordan) and the latest chapters of their relationship are quickly skimmed on the film, while the book has time to talk about Bird's and Magic's experiences as coaches and managers. Still, a great documentary about two immortal sport legends, and how they built that legend. Together. Another miracle done by basketball. 
SCORE: 7,25/10

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