Muskegon Grad Casts 'Magic' in HBO Series

June 15, 2020

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 protected] 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.)

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

April 30, 2024

CONSTANTINE – Bennett VandenBerg has earned many accolades over the last four years as a three-sport athlete at Constantine.

Southwest CorridorBut the awards aren't what the 6-foot-3, 240-pound standout will remember most when reflecting on his memories as an all-state football player, state champion wrestler and record-breaking throwing specialist on the Falcons' track & field squad.

"I'll remember how I represented our school and pushed myself to be the best I could be in each sport that I played," said VandenBerg, who has earned 12 varsity letters.

VandenBerg has evolved into one of the most accomplished athletes in the state this school year as a senior, especially standing out among those from smaller communities.

This past fall he was named first-team Division 5-6 all-state at defensive end in football before winning the Division 3 Individual Finals wrestling title at 285 pounds in early March at Ford Field.

VandenBerg's final goal is to win the discus title at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals on Saturday, June 1, in Kent City to end his Constantine career all-state in all three sports.

He broke the school record in the discus his junior year with a throw of 158 feet, 1 inch; the previous mark of 156-6 had been held by Doug Polasek since 1986. VandenBerg has eclipsed his school record twice this spring, most recently with a personal-best toss of 170-9 in a Southwestern Athletic Conference double dual meet with Schoolcraft and Kalamazoo Christian. He ranks No. 4 statewide in the event regardless of enrollment division. Lawton junior Mason Mayne at 175-4 is the only Division 3 competitor with a better throw than VandenBerg.

"It's really cool to have your name up on the school record board, but I'd like to make that mark more untouchable before I'm done," VandenBerg said. "My goal is to be a state discus champion. I've put in the necessary work for it. It would be nice to end my career that way."

Kyle Rimer, Constantine's veteran boys track & field coach, is most impressed with VandenBerg's leadership and presence in working with the Falcons' younger athletes.

VandenBerg, top position, battles Wyatt Spalo in their Division championship wrestling match at 285 pounds in March at Ford Field. "Bennett loves to compete. Ever since he was a freshman, we've also had him on our 400-meter relay team. That's something he really enjoys doing. He's not just a thrower, but a good overall athlete with lots of drive,” Rimer said. “There's a lot of individuality in track & field, but I think he does a great job of leading the younger kids. He has the drive, accountability and technique to achieve his goal of being a state champion in his throwing events.”

VandenBerg is already a two-time Finals placer in the discus, earning sixth as a junior and seventh his sophomore year. He admits being a little disappointed with his distance at the 2023 state meet.

"In that particular event (discus) you need lots of focus and determination because there are a ton of tiny things you can mess up on that affect your throw. To become better you need to be consistent, show up every day and be willing to put in the work," VandenBerg said. "Right now I'm working on my speed in the circle and quickness in my follow-through."

VandenBerg also has been pleased with his improvement this spring in the shot put. He's increased his distance by over five feet and hopes to break the school record in that event as well. John Kampars (1967) holds Constantine's shot put record at 54-8¼, and VandenBerg's personal best is 48-10 in a double-dual meet this season against Parchment and Centreville.

"Shot put is a difficult event. You need power, but your form has to be top-notch – otherwise it's tough to move that 12-pound ball," VandenBerg said. "I would love to qualify for state in both the discus and shot put and be all-state in each. That would be amazing if I could be a state champion in either of those events."

VandenBerg has put in extra work in the offseason with special instruction from Bill Griffey of Next Throw in Plainwell, along with working with Constantine assistant track & field and head football coach Shawn Griffith.

"Bennett puts a lot of time into working on his throwing. He spends a lot of time in the weight room, and he's a bigger kid who is not afraid to be coached and listens to what other people tell him," Griffith said. "We're excited to see what he can do now that we've had warmer weather recently."

VandenBerg (34) carries the football during a 2023 regular-season home game against Schoolcraft.VandenBerg's motivation this spring follows a tremendous wrestling season that saw him finish 54-0 and capture the 285 championship with a 3-0 win in the title match over Reed City junior Wyatt Spalo.

"I gained 20 pounds of muscle and did everything you need to do to become a better athlete to wrestle the heavyweight division. Winning the title was overwhelming. It was everything I ever wanted, and the first 20 minutes after winning it was relief, especially after losing in the Finals as a junior. I just went into that last match and wrestled smart and confident," VandenBerg said. "My speed and strength gave me an advantage over the bigger heavyweights I faced this year."

Vandenberg, 188-22 with 104 career pins, became the 10th Finals champion in Constantine wrestling history and the first to achieve the feat since Kevin Watkins won a 152-pound crown in 2000.

VandenBerg competed at 189 as a freshman and sophomore. He was a Regional qualifier as a freshman and finished sixth in Division 3 as a sophomore before ending his junior campaign as the Finals runner-up at 215. 

"Bennett is a competitor who hates to lose, and if he does he learns from it. He had a lot of good practice partners on the team his first three years, and he wasn't going to be denied after losing in the Finals as a junior," said Constantine wrestling coach Dale Davidhizar Jr.

VandenBerg played on Constantine's varsity football team for four years. He got a lot of extra playing time as a freshman when Constantine reached the Division 6 Semifinals during in the COVID-shortened season. He led the Falcons in rushing as a sophomore before switching to tight end as a junior. Out of necessity, VandenBerg returned to lead Constantine in rushing and scoring again as a senior.

"Bennett learned a great deal from the older guys on the team his first three varsity seasons. He learned leadership qualities and is a very unselfish kid who is willing to do what's best for his team," Griffith said.

VandenBerg is most proud of Constantine winning a District crown last fall, especially after his senior class went 0-5-1 as eighth graders. VandenBerg posted 164 solo tackles at defensive end during his final high school season and was Constantine's main offensive weapon with 1,354 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing on 186 carries.

"Winning Districts as seniors in football was a special moment. As eighth graders, we weren't exactly the most athletic team, but we put in the work as we got older to become successful," VandenBerg said.

VandenBerg has been invited to play for the West team at the annual Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's East-West All-Star Game this summer.

College coaches have shown interest in VandenBerg in all three sports, especially football and wrestling. VandenBerg, who carries a cumulative GPA of 3.989 and scored 1110 on his SAT, is weighing his options in athletics but knows he wants to study either ecology or forestry in college.

"I love being outdoors and doing what I love to do," VandenBerg said.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Constantine’s Bennett VandenBerg competes in the discus during a home meet his junior season. (Middle) VandenBerg, top position, battles Wyatt Spalo in their Division championship wrestling match at 285 pounds in March at Ford Field. (Below) VandenBerg (34) carries the football during a 2023 regular-season home game against Schoolcraft. (Photos by Brandon Watson/Sturgis Journal.)