Reporting Nate Griffin
HOUSTON (CBS Houston) It’s one thing to just show up at a play on Broadway. It’s another to be invited. Of course, one might be humbled by the invite if one is a former NBA All-Star who played with and/or against one or both of the show’s Hall of Fame stars.
Former consensus University of Houston All-American and four-time NBA All-Star guard Otis Birdsong is that special guest. He has been invited to attend the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird play Saturday night, April 20, on Broadway in New York City.
“I am the newly elected Vice President of the Retired Players Association and (the reception that follows) it is a fund raiser for our organization.”
The play is written by Academy Award-winner Eric Simonson. It attempts to replicate the lives and Hall of Fame careers of Johnson and Bird. The play reflects back on the legendary NCAA title game to their shared participation in the 1992 Olympics as members of the Dream Team.
Birdsong is thrilled to be attending and anxious to somewhat relive the moment as a player, teammate, and fan, albeit on Broadway. He expects the play to slightly reflect that era of the NBA.
“Lots of entertainment,” says Birdsong. “The history of the rivalry between Magic and Bird as it unfolded throughout their careers – but more-so than that; the friendship that was established from the rivalry.”
It all began with the historic 1979 NCAA title game between Magic Johnson of Michigan State versus Larry Bird of Indiana State. Indiana State was undefeated coming into the game. However, it was Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser, and bunch that defeated Larry Bird and Indiana State, 75-69.
The game is currently one of the most revered finals in NCAA history. It is also the highest-rated college basketball game ever. However, that game was just the tip of the iceberg as the two were able to also write a storybook ending to their NBA careers.
“It will be interesting to see how they tie that in because they were fierce competitors when they played against each other, but grew to become best of friends,” said Birdsong. “So, it will be interesting how the play can tie that in.”
Birdsong played against and briefly with Larry Bird and drew assignments to guard Magic Johnson on a nightly basis during his 12-year career. Birdsong was drafted by the Kansas City Kings out of the University of Houston with the second pick of the 1977 NBA Draft.
During his All-Star career in the NBA, he scored over 14,000 points with the Kings, New Jersey Nets, and Boston Celtics. Birdsong’s number 10 jersey was retired on Jan. 18, 1997 and currently hangs in Hohfeinz Pavillion on the campus of the UH.
He was a member of the Boston Celtics along with Bird during the 1988-89 season. While Bird had seen his best playing days prior to Birdsong getting to Boston, the Hall-of-Famer Bird still made his presence felt, says Birdsong.
“When I was in Boston towards the end of the season, it was the year that Larry’s back was actually hurt. I mean he had hurt his back and he really didn’t play. So, I really didn’t get a chance to play with him as I would have liked. It was the year that we lost in the first round to Detroit.”
“That’s when I believe Detroit won their first (NBA) Championship. They beat us in the first round- swept us actually.” Really, there’s no need for Birdsong to have any regrets. Detroit was tremendous during the 88-89 season.
Pistons Head Coach Chuck Daly, guards Joe Dumars, Isaiah Thomas, Vinnie “Microwave” Johnson, and the rest of the Pistons only lost two games – total – in the playoffs to Chicago on their way to the NBA Championship. They swept the Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, and lost two to the Bulls. That was it! They won all four games in a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA Title.
Injuries hurt the Lakers. But it’s hard to imagine with Magic Johnson still a member of those great Lakers teams that a sweep would occur. Birdsong recalls having to defend the 6’9” Johnson and says night-in night-out, games were memorable.
“It was always fun because Magic, even though you wanted to win and you competed hard against him, it was fun because he just made it fun,” says Birdsong. “It was fun to play against him. I had to guard him – ah, that wasn’t much fun because he’s real big.”
“But, the thing about Magic was he really didn’t look to score a lot except in the open court. He really got great enjoyment out of passing the ball and seeing others score.”
The National Basketball Retired Players Association has announced the launch of a new TV-style talk show that will air regularly on The HuffingtonPost.com website. The show is called Holding court.
“I am the first guest which I’m excited about that,” said Birdsong. “I am the first official guest of this new website that they’re launching to do interviews of former and current players. So should be interesting.”
The play along with the newly launched internet based TV-style talk show should make for a fun weekend for Birdsong and his Wife, Deborah.