Following stellar reviews from the SXSW film festival, Apple TV+ took over the Regency Village Theater in Westwood Thursday night for the Los Angeles premiere of its four part docuseries They Call Me Magic.

Following the success of Michael Jordan’s The Last Dance docuseries, Earvin “Magic” Johnson saw numerous bidders approach him with offers for the project.  “We had a lot of back and forth with companies and then Apple came in and that was that,” Johnson shares of the negotiations.

The project hails from director Rick Famuyiwa (Dope), in collaboration with cinematographer Rachel Morrison (Black Panther) and editor Dirk Westervelt (Ford V Ferrari).  Produced for Apple by XTR and New Slate Ventures in association with H.Wood Media and Delirio Films, the series has a long list of producers and collaborators.

“The inception of this project was around two years before The Last Dance came out,” says executive producer Rafael Marmor. “Once that series came out, we had everyone knocking on the door.”

World Premiere of Apple’s “They Call Me Magic”, Regency Village Theatre, Los Angeles CA, USA - 14 Apr 2022
Rafael Marmor, Executive Producer, attends the world premiere of Apple’s highly anticipated documentary event series, THEY CALL ME MAGIC, at the Regency Village Theatre. (Photo Credit: Apple TV+)

Marmor considers The Last Dance a perfect docuseries, but he knew that They Call Me Magic could build upon that framework. “Our series is a character piece about the two different sides of Magic and Earvin, and the elements of his life that go far beyond the court,” Marmor shares.

A Michigan native, Johnson has one of the most compelling narratives in the history of sports, long before you factor in his ventures in entertainment, business, and his HIV diagnosis and subsequent activism.

They Call Me Magic features intimate, never-before-seen interviews with Johnson and his family as well as Larry Bird, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neil, former President Barack Obama, Dwayne Wade, Jerry West, and his former coach Paul Westhead.

Coach Westhead and Magic Johnson at the World Premiere of Apple’s THEY CALL ME MAGIC at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles CA.
Coach Westhead and Magic Johnson at the World Premiere of Apple’s THEY CALL ME MAGIC at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles CA. (Photo Credit: Awards Focus)

Westhead’s relationship with Johnson has come full circle after public friction led to the coach’s dismissal from the Lakers in 1981. Before things soured between the two men, Westhead and Johnson brought an NBA championship to the Lakers in the 1980.

Playing against the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980 NBA finals, Johnson delivered an iconic performance in game six, scoring 42 points while starting as center in place of an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The 1980 season was a whirlwind season for Westhead as much as it was for then rookie Magic Johnson. “I remember game six of the NBA finals in Philadelphia, which is my hometown,” Westhead recalls. “The year before, I was a college coach at La Salle University in Philadelphia with an alright team and now I’m in my hometown with the best team in the nation and Magic playing an amazing game to bring us the title.”

Westhead has had 42 years too reflection on that life changing moment, but he didn’t revisit the film head of his interview for They Call Me Magic. “I learned a long time ago when you’re going to be interviewed, don’t prepare or you’ll give stock answers,” Coach Westhead says.

Writer and NBA legendKareem Abdul-Jabbar spent a significant amount of time with Johnson and the press, reflecting on that 1980 game six performance. “I knew Magic was going to take over,” Abdul-Jabbar recalls.

World Premiere of Apple’s “They Call Me Magic”, Regency Village Theatre, Los Angeles CA, USA - 14 Apr 2022
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson attend the world premiere of Apple’s highly anticipated documentary event series, THEY CALL ME MAGIC, at the Regency Village Theatre. (Photo Credit: Apple TV+)

“It’s an honor when you’re asked to be involved in something like this,” Abdul-Jabbar says of the docuseries. “Seeing aspects of his life that we didn’t go into as much as players, that’s what I’m most looking forward to seeing with this series.”

NBA star Dwyane Wade walked the carpet behind Abdul-Jabbar, followed by Marvel stars Don Cheadle and a lively Samuel L. Jackson (currently seen in Apple TV+’s  The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey). 

“This project celebrates Magic Johnson the person, the activist, not just the basketball player,” Jackson says. “You could make a compelling show just on basketball, but there’s so much more to him.”

Before Jackson entered the theater, he was asked about the recent Bruce Willis news and his aphasia diagnosis.  Jackson has shared the screen three times with Willis, beginning with 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) and then M. Night Shalaman’s Unbreakable (2000) and its sequel Glass (2019).

“Bruce has always been a great guy,” Jackson shares. “I really hope for the best for him.” When asked about a conversation that stands out between the industry titans, Jackson shared the following: “He told me Die Hard would change my life and he was right.”

As the carpet came to a close, Grammy winning musical and singer Stevie Wonder came through with his children. Wonder reflected on his relationship with Magic Johnson and they’re similarities.

“He’s someone who’s from Michigan, as am I, and I believe there’s shared spirit to not let adversity stop you… from family to health, to the culture of the time,” Wonder says.

They Call Me Magic, a four-part docuseries, premieres globally on Friday, April 22, 2022 on Apple TV+.  

About The Author

Founder, Awards Editor

Byron Burton is the Awards Editor and Chief Critic at Awards Focus and a National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award winning journalist for his work at The Hollywood Reporter.

Byron is a proud member of the Television Academy, the Hollywood Critics Association (HCA), and the Society of Composers & Lyricists (SCL) for his work on Marvel's X-Men Apocalypse (2016). Working as a journalist and moderator, Byron hosts Emmy and Oscar panels for the major studios, featuring their Below The Line and Above The Line nominees (in partnership with their respective guilds).

Moderating highlights include Ingle Dodd's "Behind the Slate" Screening Series and their "Spotlight Live" event at the American Legion in Hollywood. Byron covered the six person panel for Universal's "NOPE" as well as panels for Hulu's "Pam & Tommy Lee" and "Welcome to Chippendales" and HBO Max's "Barry" and "Euphoria."

For songwriters and composers, Byron is a frequent moderator for panels with the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) as well as The ArcLight's Hitting the High Note Oscar series.

Byron's panels range from FX's Fargo to Netflix's The Crown, The Queen's Gambit, The Witcher & Bridgerton; HBO Max's The Flight Attendant, Hacks, Succession, Insecure, & Lovecraft Country; Amazon Studios' The Legend of Vox Machina, Wild Cat, & Annette; and Apple TV+s Ted Lasso, Bad Sisters, and 5 Days at Memorial.

In February of 2020, Byron organized and hosted the Aiding Australia Initiative; launched to assist in the restoration and rehabilitation of Australia's wildlife (an estimated 3 billion animals killed or maimed and a landmass the size of Syria decimated).

Participating talent for Aiding Australia includes Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Jeremy Renner, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Josh Brolin, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, JK Simmons, Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Danny Elfman, Tim Burton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Tim Allen, Colin Hay, Drew Struzan, and Michael Rosenbaum.

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