March Madness: Magic Johnson Delivers for Michigan State

Magic Johnson cheers on Michigan State | Elsa/Getty Images
Magic Johnson cheers on Michigan State. | Elsa/Getty Images

By the time March rolls around, everything you think you know about the world of college basketball is thrown out the window. Once the field of 68 is chosen, that’s when the real fun begins. You fill out your brackets, search for potential upsets, see if you can spot any Cinderellas, and ultimately, pray that your choices don’t make you look like a fool in front of your friends, family, and coworkers. It’s a special time for all parties involved. But for the record, it wasn’t always that way.

Nowadays, because of the drama, uncertainty, and unpredictability of March Madness, the NCAA tournament has become a can’t-miss event. However, there was a time in the not-so-distant past when the tournament itself flew completely under the radar. Two teams would meet, the winner would move on, and a national champion was eventually crowned. End of story. Then something happened; something that no one could have possibly seen coming.

One tournament, two superstars, and an exciting rivalry that would capture the country’s attention. We’re talking about the 1979 NCAA tournament; we’re talking about Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird; we’re talking about the official birth of March Madness. When Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans and Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores met in the 1979 national championship game, it was an absolute must-watch for college basketball fans.

This was the start of an unforgettable duel that would carry over into the game’s highest level as these two giants battled for NBA supremacy. But on this national stage, on this momentous occasion, there could be only one victor. And with a single spectacular dunk, Johnson made sure it was the Spartans. So sit back, relax, and enjoy another March Madness edition of “Throwback Throwdowns.”

On March 26, 1979, Michigan State and Indiana State took the floor, each with only one goal in mind: a national championship. Led by Larry Legend, the Sycamores entered the contest as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, sporting a perfect 31-0 record. Michigan State, on the other hand, came into the affair as the No. 2 seed in the Mideast region, already having six losses on the year. Of course, at this point, records hardly matter. It’s one game for all the marbles. And the Spartans had one thing that Indiana State didn’t: Magic.

With the game winding down, Michigan State clung to a seven-point lead, its eyes firmly on the prize. Of course, as the announcer noted, the Spartans were also just “trying to run out that clock.” But just because that was the case, that doesn’t mean Johnson wasn’t up for a little “Showtime.” Magic gave up the ball, faked left, and then made a sharp cut to the basket. He received the give-and-go, took one dribble, and then took off.

Indiana State’s Bob Heaton rotated over, hoping to thwart the Michigan State superstar. Yet, it was too late. Johnson stuffed the rock in Heaton’s face, knocked him to the ground, and drew the and one in the process. The perfect exclamation point to a perfect tournament. The Spartans would go on to win the game by a score of 75-64. And for the rest of us, from that point on, the month of March would never be the same.

Statistics courtesy of SR/College Basketball.