By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
The last time many people saw Quincy Crosby was during his final high school football game at Ford Field back in 2012, when the 6-foot-3, 280-pounder was a senior captain for Muskegon High School.
Chances are most didn’t notice him, since he was doing the unheralded dirty work as the starting center for the Big Reds, who lost a 35-28 heartbreaker to Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice that day in the MHSAA Division 2 Final.
The next time many see Crosby, he will be front and center, and impossible to miss, showing off an entirely different skill set.
Crosby, 24, has transformed from bruising lineman to up-and-coming Hollywood star, who last year landed a dream role as Michigan’s own Earvin “Magic” Johnson in the upcoming HBO series focusing on the Los Angeles Lakers’ “Showtime” era of the 1980s.
“I’m just a kid from Muskegon; now I’m playing Magic on a TV show. How cool is that?” said Crosby, who played football and was a theater major at Kalamazoo College after his prep days. “I guess this is the big break I’ve been waiting for my whole life. Every part I didn’t get was worth it to get this one.”
The show, which is being produced by former Lakers standout Rick Fox, was originally titled “Showtime.” But that name was scrubbed when it was picked up by HBO, a competing network with Showtime. Right now, the series is referred to by the generic, “Untitled Lakers Project.”
The one-hour limited series drama is based on Jeff Pearlman’s book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.” The Untitled Lakers Project is described by HBO as a fast-break series chronicling the professional and personal lives of the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers, one of sports’ most revered and dominant dynasties—a team that defined its era, both on and off the court.
The series features some big names, including John C. Reilly as Jerry Buss, Solomon Hughes as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jason Clarke as Jerry West. In the cast list, Crosby goes by his stage name of Quincy Isaiah – which are his first and middle names, respectively.
The series was expected to debut this month to coincide with the NBA Finals, but production delays due to Covid-19 and the suspension and uncertainty of the NBA season have pushed that tentative starting date back to June, 2021.
The delay hasn’t kept Crosby off Cloud 9.
Crosby landed the part in early June of last year, and in the days following that announcement, he went to Game 5 of the NBA Finals, where Fox introduced him to celebrities like Jalen Rose, Jerry West and Common. Then he hung out in Las Vegas for some NBA summer-league games, where the stargazing continued. He has yet to meet Magic, but expects that to happen soon.
“Everyone is telling me this is a game-changer, that this is going to be huge,” Crosby said. “I’m just so thankful for the opportunity.”
Catching the bug
Muskegon High School football coach Shane Fairfield wasn’t surprised to learn that his former team captain and three-year varsity player had earned a leading role in a television show – but as a basketball star?
“I said: ‘Basketball? You ain’t got no game!” Fairfield said with a laugh. “But the reality is, that role was kind of made for him. Quincy has that charisma and that big, amazing smile, just like Magic.”
Crosby’s transition from one of the “Brothers of Destruction” on the Big Reds’ offensive line to thespian actually began a few months after that crushing loss to Brother Rice.
That game started Muskegon’s incredible run of seven football Finals appearances in eight years, and the Big Reds have the winningest program in state football history and rank No. 7 in the nation with 859 wins (dating back to 1895). But the school had not been able to put on a spring musical in more than 20 years due to budget cuts.
But that spring, in a stroke of fortune, the school was selected in NBC’s 2013 “Smash” Make A Musical contest and awarded funding to put on the classic musical, “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
Crosby said theater director Karli Baldus talked him into trying out for the show, and he landed the comical part of Ching Ho.
“I caught the bug, big time,” Crosby recalled with a laugh. “I thought it was the best thing.”
He also noticed parallels right away with football, with both requiring hours and hours of practice and repetition in preparation for game time – or show time.
“When I was playing football, I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else and I would just get zoned out on what I had to do on the line,” said Crosby. “It’s the same thing in acting. You practice until you know it by heart, and then you get out there and just let it go. Acting is all instincts.”
Crosby took acting classes at Kalamazoo, but due to football, never had enough time to be part of the big productions.
That all changed after performing a sketch in his television production class his junior year. He got pulled aside by his professor, who told Crosby he saw major acting potential in him and encouraged him to get more involved his senior year.
That heartfelt plea led Crosby to not only quit the football team after three years as a starter on the offensive line, but also to change his major from business to theater. He then blossomed on the stage his senior year, working behind the scenes in the fall production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” before earning major roles of Walter Lee Younger in “Raisin In The Sun” and Benny in “In The Heights.”
Finding the Magic
Shortly after graduating from K-College in 2017 with a theater degree, Crosby made his way to Hollywood to pursue his acting dream, only to find it was a bumpy road – to say the least.
Crosby was able to land small roles in short productions like “Corporate Coffee” and “Anomaly,” but his bid for major roles was met by rejection after rejection.
In those moments, he said, his background as an offensive lineman at Muskegon got him through.
“I learned to embrace the grind playing football at Muskegon,” said Crosby, the son of Delores Crosby and the late Gregory Crosby, who died when Quincy was just 3 years old. “You know, being an offensive lineman helped too. You get blamed when things go wrong and none of the praise when things go right, so you learn to just stay in your bubble and grind.”
His Hollywood experience nearly ground to a halt in early 2019, and he was about to enlist in the Navy when his agent and fellow Muskegon native Terrance Williams helped him land the audition that would change his life.
Ironically, he didn’t even get a script until the day of the audition and while others had memorized their lines, Crosby read directly from the script. He still landed a callback for the lead role of Magic and, six days later, he was ready and brought his “A game.”
“Walking out of the callback, the casting director told me to keep my phone close because that was a really good audition,” said Crosby.
The only thing left was a basketball audition with Fox in a high school gym, which clinched the role, Crosby said.
Fox and Crosby then started making the Hollywood rounds before shooting the pilot in October, after which the series was picked up by HBO in November. After a lengthy delay due to Covid-19, the plan is to shoot the first year of the series this fall, starting when Magic was drafted by the Lakers out of Michigan State in 1979.
One benefit of the delay is that it has given Crosby time to watch reams of old Magic footage and try to capture his nuances – on and off the court.
“The good thing about playing Magic is that there is so much video and footage of him out there,” said Crosby. “There’s so many things I’ve picked up – the way he walks and the way he always says ‘right’ after sentences. I’m getting better and better at it.”
Meanwhile, back in Muskegon, the Big Reds’ coaching staff is continuing its year-round quest to get more players into college and prepared for life after high school. Fairfield said he can’t wait to have his team watch the Lakers series and see one of their own in a starring role.
“Quincy is an example to our kids that there are so many avenues to success,” Fairfield said. “Making the NFL is one-in-a-million. What we emphasize is that you take what you learn here – hard work, discipline, perseverance, humility – and you apply it to anything you want to do in life.”
This is the first installment in a weekly summer “Made in Michigan” series catching up with this state's past high school athletes as they continue their stories.
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at email@example.com with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Quincy Crosby plays Magic Johnson in an upcoming HBO series. (Middle) Crosby, now seven years after graduating from Muskegon High. (Below) Crosby, far right, heads to midfield with his teammates for the coin flip before the 2012 Division 2 Final at Ford Field. (Top and middle photos courtesy of Quincy Crosby. Below photo by Tim Reilly.)