Lombardi, about legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi (played by Kevin Arnold’s dad!), was a surprise hit on Broadway, so another sports play was probably inevitable. Thus, Magic/Bird, the story of the decades-long rivalry and friendship between the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and the Celtics’ Larry Bird, which is running in previews now and officially opens at the Longacre Theater on April 11. Will Leitch spoke with six-foot-five Tug Coker, the actor with the difficult task of bringing to life the notoriously low-key Bird.
Larry Bird is probably the least expressive superstar athlete imaginable. It would seem near impossible to make that guy dynamic onstage.
One of the things I noticed about Larry is that he internalizes so many things, so his expression, his relief, is out on the basketball court where he can compete and shove people and things like that. He is always aware of everyone in the room without saying a word.
So who is he then?
He doesn’t speak much. He is a doer, not a sayer. But when he does say something to you, it speaks volumes.
Did you talk to him during this process?
I wanted to talk to him about his take on certain relationships that are big in the play, like his relationship with [legendary Celtics coach] Red Auerbach, and with his mother, and of course with Magic. But he had no advice for me. He seemed to find the whole conversation strange, which I guess it was.
Is he going to come to the show?
He said he was going to come opening night. He said it was not only his first Broadway show but maybe the first play he has ever seen. I can only imagine how crazy it would be to go to your first play and have it be about your life.
What’s it like wearing those famously tight eighties short shorts for two hours?
The sole reason I took this job was for the shorts. The director is actually trying to create more scenes with more short shorts. I’m surprised it hasn’t come back. People are wearing this form-fitting clothing now. I am surprised someone hasn’t taken the leap and been like, “You know what? I’m going to be bold.”