After playing Magic Johnson on HBO’s Lakers Show, Quincy Isaiah is ready for the big leagues

Were you intimidated by the prospect of playing someone so famous, especially in your first major role?

I mean, yeah. I play a legend that everyone knows and who is still very present in the public sphere. But at the same time, I am an actor. That’s what I do and I feel good about it. I have a very good team built around me, so I really rely on that. Having people who have reached a certain level made it easier for me to be a student. Again, that’s what I like about acting: just reacting to others and working with the people around me, because that’s how you get better.

You were a college athlete, but I imagine the basketball practice you had as part of the audition process was grueling in a different way. I understand that Rick Fox, who played for the Lakers, was brought in to coach you. What kind of exercises did he make you do?

It was a lot of dribbling and a lot of sprinting, because Showtime was a fast offense, so you have to be able to run. I had to run, shoot, sprint, touch the line, then catch the ball, shoot, sprint and touch the line. Stuff like that. And honestly what I think he wanted to see more than anything is if I’m athletic enough to at least do some things and would I work hard enough to do it if I didn’t not. And I like to think he saw both. But coming from being a football player, I kind of knew what it was going to be like, so I knew to bust my ass and make it hard for him to be like, ‘Nah.’

I’ve always loved watching football players on the basketball court. Many of them are just as technically proficient, but I think you certainly know what it means when someone says, “You hoop like a football player.” A lot of their games are all athletics.

Yes, run and play defense [laughs].

So I’m very attached to on-screen basketball and its authentic appearance. There is a level of physical preparation that you will naturally understand as an athlete, but football training and basketball training are a little different. Plus, you were an offensive lineman in college and now you have to portray convincingly the playmaker for the sake of that role. What have you done to not only refine your game, but to portray this basketball anomaly as realistically as possible?

First, I had to bend over. I was still fat, but I had to lose weight. I’ve played basketball all my life, but I had a basketball coach who helped me figure out everything about how I know how to play basketball – because I was playing like a football player. He wanted to train me first as a basketball player before I really started working on Magic. Also, my trainer helped me move differently. Basketball players don’t weight train the same way football players do. You need to train your body to move laterally to float a bit more and have more finesse. So these people helped me understand my body and how to move, which really helped create the illusion that I’m a leader.

James C. Tibbs