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

For basketball fans, those first two parts are certainly a heady dive into the dazzling talent and incandescent personality of Earvin Johnson Jr which earned him his nickname at a young age, with journalist Michael Wilbon distinguishing Earvin, the guy, and Magic, “a character who played basketball.”

Johnson’s exploits in high school, the national championship at Michigan State and the NBA title as a rookie are well-documented, which may explain why director Rick Famuyiwa gives them what they deserve but doesn’t necessarily dwell on them. In his extensive interviews, Johnson admits to being angry when Larry Bird won rookie of the year, while his Lakers teammates recall his scepticism about Johnson’s closeness to Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

“We all wondered if Earvin was a player or a coach,” says teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, after marvelling that Johnson’s no-look passes “made it sound like he was clairvoyant.”

As the documentary points out, Johnson’s golden aura was tested at times, from his flops against the Boston Celtics that earned him the unwanted nickname “tragic” to the boos that rained down on him after he was accused of provoking the firing of then-Lakers coach Paul Westhead.

Still, the real heart of “They Call Me Magic” comes in the third and fourth hours, the former extensively documenting Johnson’s HIV diagnosis, catapulting viewers into not only how devastating that moment felt, but also Johnson’s role in changing the way AIDS was perceived.

“We all thought it was a death sentence,” says coach Pat Riley, while James Worthy recalls he and his Lakers teammates hearing the news: “We just sat there numb.”

The final part covers Johnson’s success as a businessman, championing development and investment in black neighbourhoods; and his life as a husband and father, as well as other diversions, like his reckless late-night performance “The Magic Hour,” which Jimmy Kimmel calls “one of the worst television shows ever.”

They Call Me Magic never strays too far from basketball, including Johnson’s experience with “The Dream Team” during the Olympics and his occasional comeback attempts, but he makes it clear that the game that made him famous doesn’t quite define him.

The docuseries also feels like a tonic, frankly, compared to the brash, cynical tone of “Winning Time,” and a fitting extension of other docuseries devoted to those NBA glory years, such as “Celtics/Lakers: Best of Enemies,” which further details the extent to which that rivalry, and Johnson and Larry Bird, in particular, were instrumental in reviving the league’s fortunes.

As for the inevitable questions about the NBA’s pantheon of greats, Riley admits some bias in declaring Johnson the greatest of all time, while Bird says simply, “It doesn’t matter who’s better, we’ll stick together for the rest of the world.” our lives.”