‘They Call Me Magic’ Review: Magic Johnson tells his story with an assist from Apple TV +

For basketball fans, the first two parts are definitely a breathtaking dive into Earvin Johnson Jr.’s dazzling talent and glowing personality, which gave him his nickname at an early age, with journalist Michael Wilbon distinguishing between Earvin, the guy and Magic, “a character who played basketball. “

Johnson’s high school heroism, national championship in Michigan State and the NBA title as a rookie are all well documented, which may explain why director Rick Famuyiwa gives them their right but does not necessarily dwell on them. In his extensive interviews, Johnson admits to having been angry when Larry Bird won this year’s rookie, while other Lakers recall their skepticism about Johnson’s proximity to Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

“We were all wondering if Earvin was a player or a manager,” notes teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, after wondering if Johnson’s passes without seeing “make it seem like he was a clairvoyant.”

As the documentary shows, Johnson’s golden aura was tested at times, ranging from his failures against the Boston Celtics, who gave him the unwanted nickname “Tragic”, to the buh that rained down on him after he was stamped as having triggered the firing of then-Lakers coach Paul Westhead.

Yet the real heart of “They Call Me Magic” comes in the third and fourth hour, the first comprehensive documentation of Johnson’s HIV diagnosis, throwing viewers back not only to how devastating that moment felt, but also Johnson’s role in changing it. way AIDS was perceived. .

“We all thought it was a death sentence,” coach Pat Riley said, while James Worthy recalls when he and his Laker teammates heard the news, “We were just sitting there, numb.”

Magic Johnson and his father Earvin Johnson in "They Call Me Magic."
The last part covers Johnson’s success as a businessman who advocates development and investment in black neighborhoods; and his life as a husband and father, as well as other detours, such as his ill-considered late-host effort “The Magic Hour,” which Jimmy Kimmel calls “one of the worst TV shows in history.”

“They Call Me Magic” never ventures too far from basketball, including Johnson’s experience of “The Dream Team” during the Olympics and his occasional comeback attempt, but it makes clear that the game that made him famous does not quite define him .

The documentaries also feel like a tonic, frankly, compared to the cheeky, cynical tone of “Winning Time” and an appropriate extension of other documentaries devoted to these great years of the NBA, such as “Celtics / Lakers: Best of Enemies,” , which detailed in more detail the extent to which this rivalry, and Johnson and Larry Bird in particular, were crucial to reviving the league’s fortunes.

As for the inevitable questions about the pantheon of NBA greats, Riley admits he has a certain bias in pronouncing Johnson the best ever, while Bird simply says, “It doesn’t matter who is better, we want to. be tied together for the rest of our lives. “

Abdul-Jabbar and former Laker star coach general manager Jerry West recently expressed their dissatisfaction with “Winning Time,” and Johnson made it clear that he was not thrilled about it either. This Apple production provides a Magic-approved view of the world with an upcoming documentary series about the Lakers – the LA franchise’s version of “The Last Dance” – coming from Hulu.

Even those familiar with Johnson’s career are likely to find new wrinkles and anecdotes here thanks to the wide range of interviews. And besides, what basketball fan could not use an assist when it comes to putting more magic into their lives?

“They Call Me Magic” premieres on April 22 on Apple TV +. (Note: My wife works for an Apple device.)

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