Why KING JAMES is in New York at the Perfect Time


Glenn Davis and Chris Perfetti | Photo: Craig Schwartz Photography

Jordanna Brody
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May 18, 2023 9:29 AM

The venn diagram of basketball fans and theatre fans may seem small, but 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph’s King James says otherwise. The title, of course, refers to NBA legend LeBron James (not to be confused with the King James Bible or one of the many King James’ of England).

Following two incredibly well received productions in Chicago at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, the show has made its way to the east coast at Manhattan Theatre Club. Fun fact: Theatrely’s Editor-In-Chief named the production in L.A. one his Best Regional Productions of 2022.

The play stars Glenn Davis and Abbott Elementary breakout star Chris Perfetti, and is directed by Tony Award winning director, Kenny Leon.

King James is about so much more than just basketball–it’s “an epic meditation on friendship,” says Chris Perfetti. Playwright Rajiv Joseph took special care to meld the worlds of theatre and basketball, noting, “there are four scenes like four quarters of an NBA basketball game.” 

Director Kenny Leon says the play “parallels LeBron's relationship with his community, the relationship of these two men who are so different from each other, and it explores the idea that many of us don't get to the fourth quarter of friendship or relationships. So the play really explores what does it mean to get to the fourth quarter in friendship with all its powers to deal with that?” The show takes place over the course of 14 years, starting in 2003, when LeBron James was first drafted to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and follows the unlikely friendship between Shawn and Matt. “And their friendship sort of ebbs and flows based on their competing opinions of LeBron,” says Joseph. 

And the timing for King James to be in New York couldn’t be more perfect. The Knicks are in the playoffs this year, alongside the Miami Heat (who LeBron played for from 2010-2014), and the L.A. Lakers (who LeBron currently plays for). But the topical and cultural overlap doesn’t stop there–the show first played in Chicago (home of the Bulls and many a Michael Jordan fan), then went to Los Angeles where Lebron currently plays, leading to a myriad of mixed responses from audiences. Glenn Davis talked about how “there's a moment in the play where I say LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of all time. In Chicago, I got booed. People love the play, but they were like, ‘We were with you up until that moment.’ And in L.A I said, ‘LeBron's the greatest of all time,’ and people cheered.”.

So who knows how New York audiences will respond, but even if you’re not a basketball fan, there is plenty to get out of this play with its other main focus being the friendship between the two characters.

King James is currently in previews at Manhattan Theatre Club, opens May 16, and is set to run until June 18. For more information, visit here.

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Jordanna Brody

Originally from South Florida, Jordanna Brody graduated from Emerson College with a BFA in Theatre Education and Performance in 2019. Her experience teaching, performing, directing, and working behind the scenes informs her perspective on theatre in every way. She is passionate about uplifting marginalized voices and innovative theatrical experiences.

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