Magic and Bird, together again
Magic Johnson and Larry Bird reunited Monday night to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their memorable matchup in the 1979 NCAA championship game.
Johnson’s Michigan State team defeated Bird’s Indiana State squad, 75-64, in Salt Lake City.
Bird played in the game but admitted, three decades later, he has still never watched a replay of it.
“Why?” Bird said at a Ford Field news conference before the national title game between North Carolina and Michigan State. “I don’t like the memories of it.”
Johnson leaned over to console Bird.
“I watch it enough for him and I,” Johnson said with his trademark laugh.
Johnson added: “If he had won, trust me, I wouldn’t have watched it either.”
The game drew a TV rating of 24.1, still the highest for any college basketball or NBA game.
It was the start of one of the sport’s great relationships. The two stars continued their battle into the NBA, with Johnson winning five NBA titles with the Lakers and Bird winning three with the Boston Celtics.
Johnson said Michael Jordan was the best player he ever saw in the air and Bird was the best player he saw on the ground.
Johnson then put his thumb and finger together to simulate Bird’s vertical leap.
Johnson: “Larry couldn’t jump so high.”
Bird: “Not like you was flying in the air either.”
The players mostly said how lucky they were to be involved in one of college basketball’s most memorable games.
Johnson said: “There would be no Magic without Larry Bird.”
Bird said: “I finally found someone who thought and played the game the way I thought it should be played.”
Jordan, inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame on Monday, recalled playing in the 1982 NCAA title game and making the game-winning shot for North Carolina to beat Georgetown.
“Going over on the bus, I remember [thinking] I was going to have an impact on the game, at some point and in some fashion,” Jordan said. “How that was going to translate I never knew. And lo and behold, I hit the game-winning shot. But that was the vision I saw prior to the game.”
Jordan says he remembers that he wasn’t nervous before the title game.
“I never knew what the national championship represented at the time,” he said. “Because I was just new to the whole stage, so I didn’t have time enough to be nervous. I was just happy to be in a college uniform, in Carolina. Now I’d probably be nervous as hell playing in a game like that.”
We’d watch that
Jim Nantz of CBS suggested that, if the Michigan State-North Carolina game ended in a tie, Johnson and Jordan could play one-on-one to determine the outcome.
Jordan to Nantz: “You really think he can beat me?”
Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina, and Kalin Lucas and Goran Suton of Michigan State were named to the all-tournament team.
Ellington, who scored 19 points, won the Final Four’s most outstanding player award.
North Carolina’s senior class of Mike Copeland, Bobby Frasor, Danny Green and Hansbrough earned its 124th win Monday, breaking the school record. The senior class finished with a record of 124-22.
Lawson set a championship game record with eight assists. The previous record was seven, set by Duke’s Tommy Amaker in 1986 against Louisville and Oklahoma’s Mookie Blaylock in 1988 against Kansas.
Michigan State suffered its first defeat in the NCAA title game after winning in 1979 against Indiana State, 75-64, and in 2000 against Florida, 89-76.