Play About Magic Johnson, Larry Bird Headed to Broadway?

NEW YORK – The playwright behind the Broadway play "Lombardi" is moving from the gridiron to the hard court.

Eric Simonson is working on "Magic/Bird," a new play that will chronicle the lives of basketball Hall of Famers Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird.

Producers Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo were encouraged by the response to "Lombardi" — the story of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi now on Broadway — to push ahead with a second sports-themed play.

"We've been fired on by the experience to keep on going and feel that it can be a really thriving series," Kirmser said Thursday in a phone interview.

The story will trace the two basketball stars' rivalry and friendship from their days as rookies in the NBA to their appearance on the Olympic Dream Team in 1992. Johnson and Bird were key parts in the storied struggle between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics during the 1980s.

"Here are these two, amazing at their craft, inspiring to watch, and yet they couldn't be more different people," said Kirmser. "There was a fierce competitiveness between them and yet such a great love and respect."

The six-character play is scheduled to debut on Broadway in 2012. The script is currently in development and no theater or director has been chosen yet. Johnson and Bird will participate in the creative process.

Like "Lombardi," which benefited from endorsement by the National Football League, the new play about Bird and Magic will be produced in association with the National Basketball Association.

That means that the NBA's marketing muscle will be deployed and will allow the creative team to take advantage of the association's film and archives. The producers say the new play will have more action sequences than "Lombardi," which had little actual football playing on stage.

Does that mean the audience will see an actor try to drain a 3-point-shot on a Broadway stage? "We shall see," Kirmser said, laughing.

Kirmser and Ponturo have found some success in the unlikely combination of sports and theater, and point to an increase in the number of men attending "Lombardi" than a traditional play.

"For us, it's finding the right property," said Ponturo. "We do like building this series of sports biography projects, but at the end of the day, you do have to have something that's compelling for the theater-goer."

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