USA TODAY US Edition
Magic-bird rivalry hits next big stage
This is acting: You couldn’t get off the bench in basketball and now you need to convince audiences you’re Larry Bird.
Tug Coker, who has been in shows such as CSI and The Office, plays Bird in the Broadway play Magic/bird and puts up a dozen shots each show. But, Coker says, “they’re all high probability.”
And unlike Kevin Daniels, who plays Johnson, Coker was on a college team. But don’t look for Youtube highlights from Coker’s days at William and Mary. “I was a walk-on and never played,” he says. “I just got to experience the fun of the weight room. At least I can say I was on a team.”
Coker, who didn’t touch a basketball at his audition, began research for the role by driving to Bird’s hometown of French Lick, Ind. He also got advice from Bird — who pointed out Red Auerbach didn’t drink, which resulted in a script change — and from Johnson — who advised him to work on Bird’s smirk. (On Late Show with David Letterman this week, Johnson explained how he countered Bird’s smirk with smiles. Bird responded that he used to want to take “three of them teeth home with me.”)
Coker also learned one reason he and Bird had different playing careers. “I asked him about his offseason regimen,” says Coker, who is 6-5. “All the things he did before noon every day made me wonder why I even tried to play basketball. It made me want to be 16 again.” Don’t we all.