Mar 26-1979: Bird-Magic Ignite March Madness

Mar 26-1979: Bird-Magic Ignite March Madness

It Was a Different Tournament

  • The field had been expanded from 32 to 40 teams.
  • Two of the top 4 ranked teams reached the Final Four – #1 Indiana State and #3 Michigan State.
  • Despite being #1 and entering the Final Four with a 32-0 record, Indiana State qualified as a Cinderella since it was their first NCAA appearance.  The team was one of only four college teams to beat the Soviet National team earlier in the season.  The Sycamores were led by player of the year Larry Bird, a 6-9 forward who averaged 28.6 points and nearly 15 rebounds per game, but who played throughout the tournament with a broken thumb. Bird also had been drafted by the Boston Celtics in the 1978 draft in a stroke of genius by Red Auerbach.
  • Michigan State entered the Final Four (24-6) led by Magic Johnson who was a rare phenomenon – a 6-8 point guard.
  • The Final Four featured another Cinderella, 14th-ranked Penn (25-6) which had shocked North Carolina in the opening round and beat Eastern powerhouses Syracuse and St. Johns to reach their first Final Four.  It was the fourth and last time an Ivy League team reached the Final Four.  (Dartmouth ’42 and ’44 and Bill Bradley-led Princeton ’65 are the others).  Penn’s run was surprising, but not shocking since it had been an Eastern power itself playing in back-to-back regional finals in 1971 and 1972.  See When an Ivy League Team Had Big Hoop Dreams

In the semifinals, Michigan State crushed Penn’s glass slipper 101-67, while Bird’s 35 points carried Indiana State past DePaul 76-74.

The Game

The game, which remains the highest rated college basketball game ever, was really anti-climactic and not an especially great game.  It is significant, however, because it introduced the two players who would transform the game over the next decade and ignite one of the best rivalries in sports. Michigan State jumped to a 37-28 lead and Magic out-dueled Bird 24-19 points as the Spartans never looked back winning 75-64.

The Legacy

The rest, as they say, is history.  The two would dominate the next decade of basketball.


Bird – Rookie of the Year
Celtics go from 2d worst team in NBA to NBA’s Best Record

Magic – NBA Finals MVP
Lakers Beat 76ers 4-2 for their first title since Wilt Chamberlain in 1972


Celtics Beat Rockets 4-2 for their first title since John Havlicek-Dave Cowens era in 1976


Celtics with NBA Best Record for 3rd Year in a row
Lakers beat 76ers in NBA Finals 4-2


Lakers lose to 76ers in NBA Finals 4-0


Bird – MVP
Celtics beat Lakers 4-3 in NBA Finals with Bird winning Finals MVP


Bird – MVP
Lakers beat Celtics in the NBA Finals for the first time ever 4-2


Bird – MVP
Celtics beat Rockets 4-2 in the NBA Finals with Bird winning Finals MVP


Magic – MVP
Lakers beat Celtics 4-2 in the NBA Finals with Magic winning Finals MVP


Lakers beat Pistons in the NBA Finals 4-3


Magic – MVP
Lakers lose to Pistons in the NBA Finals 4-0


Magic – MVP

In 1992, the two legends finally became teammates and Co-Captains as part of the Olympic Dream Team.


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