An honorable mention Post All-Met basketball selection his senior year at Stafford, Coker was nothing more than a practice player in Williamsburg. When he transferred to the University of Virginia, the coaches there gave him a cursory tryout but, citing his lack of speed and jumping ability, said no thanks.
So here is Coker, 34, who never realized his childhood dream of playing in the NCAA basketball tournament, slipping into a Boston Celtics jersey — his favorite team growing up — and copping the mannerisms of one of the most revered players of all-time as a co-star in “Magic/Bird.”
Coker would be more bewildered if he weren’t so amused.
“I find it odd and funny and cute that one of my goals in life was for people to watch me play basketball — but they’re doing it watching me on Broadway,” he said by phone from his Longacre Theatre dressing room, decorated with the same Bird poster that he had in his bedroom as a boy.
“My sports career was not as amazing as I hoped or thought it would be, so it’s funny that people keep asking me about it. I was pretty crushed when I didn’t have a chance to make an impact at either [college]. I just sort of realized I’m not as great a player as I thought I was coming out of high school. I tried to look for another thing.”
Coker had taken drama classes at Stafford, and after his failed bid to make the U-Va. basketball team, he traded the court for a stage. Acting has joined, not necessarily replaced, his previous passion, and he has been able to feed both since landing the role of Bird.
During preparation and previews for “Magic/Bird,” and now after its April 11 opening, Coker the accidental Celtic has been able to meet and perform for basketball royalty that he grew up idolizing, including Bird, 55, whom he saw play at the Capital Centre about a quarter-century ago.
Coker visited Bird’s home town in southern Indiana to get a better handle on his subject’s background and dialect by chatting with locals who know him. The fine citizens of French Lick, protective of their most famous export, would eyeball the underwear-model-handsome Coker, a 6-foot-5 left-hander with brown hair, and skeptically drawl, “How you going to play Larry Bird?” Bird is a plainish 6-9 right-hander with a blond nest and a your-ad-here chin.
Coker assured them that with wigs and a false mustache, he could be Birdified and do their boy justice. A New York Times review from opening night opined that “Mr. Coker is . . . saddled with a wig that makes him look like Frankenstein’s monster with a bad dye job.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Coker’s fake hair is un-Birdlike, though. Besides, Coker was more interested in what was in Bird’s head, not on it.