The king in this new American play is basketball legend LeBron James who this month made headlines as his sport’s first active player to become a billionaire. If you don’t know what made James a four-time NBA champ and MVP – or what any of these initials mean – that’s no hindrance to Rajiv Joseph’s drama, a co-production with Chicago’s Steppenwolf company, which uses sporting fandom to consider home-town and national pride and prejudice. Structured in four sections like a basketball game, it begins with ebullient DJ Khloe Janel at the side of the stage spinning Bruno Mars and Timbaland. Searchlights roam among the audience in the breaks between each quarter, accompanied by blazing rap tunes, giving a big-game atmosphere and bounce to what is an otherwise straightforward two-hander. Matt (Chris Perfetti) has debts to pay and reluctantly puts his season tickets for the Cleveland Cavaliers up for sale. Shawn (Glenn Davis) has come into some cash and wants to see the Cavs up close, especially now they have LeBron James, the rookie who is the talk of the town. While haggling, the pair strike up a friendship although Shawn, who is black, quickly notes Matt’s white privilege and careless bias. There are some keen observations on how a player can forge a team’s and a town’s reputation, the emotional and economical investments made in them, and the sense of ownership fans have of their star players. In this opening quarter, Matt and Shawn befriend each other just as Clevelanders are taking James into their hearts. Joseph then provides a parallel, with too much signposting, between the pair’s despair at James’s signing to Miami Heat and Matt’s unease at Shawn’s move to New York to study screenwriting.

Perfetti catches the right needling tone to make “I’m happy for you” emphasise how sorry he really feels for himself. Joseph develops these best friends’ relationship not just with each other but with the superstar player who provokes feelings of betrayal and heartbreak more commonly reserved for partners. It all intersects in a well-executed second-half exchange when what starts as another bit of fanatical baseball analysis leaves Shawn aggrieved and Matt in denial, with a chasm between them. Both actors give resonant performances under Kenny Leon’s direction, and Matt’s parents are subtly evoked through Todd Rosenthal’s set design which rotates in the second half to reveal their overstuffed bric-a-brac emporium. Shawn’s family background is less well drawn but Davis excels when delivering a childhood memory of watching the Cavs in his family’s basement, tickets to the match going damp in his hand, after his father was unable to leave work in time to take him there. It’s not the fullest answer to these fans’ familiar cry of despair (“why do we do this?”), and James’s magic on the court could be more powerfully poeticised. But Joseph goes some distance in assessing the fervour of sporting obsession, the crushing lows and the endless promise of the next game, conjured by the alluring smell of fresh tickets. Some things are ‘nice to have’: TV subscriptions, restaurant meals, new clothes. Other things are ‘need to have’: food, water, heating. And access to reliable, trustworthy information. As the cost of living crisis sweeps the world, rising costs mean many people in Hong Kong will be cutting back on the ‘nice to have’ But news is most certainly a ‘need to have’. It is essential to ensure justice and fairness prevail at a time of squeezed living standards, economic mismanagement and gross unfairness towards the disadvantaged. Without trusted, independent news, we will be blind to the complex crisis that lies ahead. This is the most important time to know as much as possible about what is going on. Rising energy costs and food bills mean that many readers cannot afford to pay for news. But as a reader-funded news organisation, we are reliant on the support of those who can manage it. If you can, please consider showing your support for open, independent Guardian journalism today, so we can keep it freely available for everyone. This means millions more can understand the events shaping our world, understand their impact on people and communities, and become inspired to take meaningful action. Unlike many others, the Guardian has no shareholders, no billionaire owner. Just the determination and passion to deliver high-impact global reporting, always free from commercial or political influence. Reporting like this is vital for democracy, for fairness and to demand better from the powerful.

We’re proud to say we now have more than 1.5 million supporters in 180 countries. Will you join them? Every contribution, however big or small, powers our journalism in tight economic times and sustains our future. Support the Guardian from as little as $1 – it only takes a minute. If you can, please consider supporting us with a regular amount each month. Thank you.

W88 Australia Customer Service: