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EXCERPT | April 2, 1979
The Magic Show
Earvin Johnson led Michigan State to the NCAA title
The rivalry between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson got its start on March 26, 1979, when the two met in what is perhaps the NCAA tournament's most famous championship game. Larry Keith reported for SI.
Last Monday night Michigan State confirmed a notion that had been gaining credence as the NCAA tournament progressed and State rolled to one easy win after another. The Spartans, despite a 21--6 regular-season record, are a superb team, largely because of their perfect mix of superstars in the spotlight and supernumeraries in the shadows. Together they accomplished what Earvin Johnson and Gregory Kelser could never have done by themselves—indeed, what no team had been able to do this season. The Spartans caged Larry Bird and ended the 33-game winning streak of Indiana State 75--64 to win their first national basketball title.
For Bird, the word in Salt Lake City was frustration. He missed shots, he committed turnovers and he failed to find the open man. He also needed what Johnson and Kelser had, a supporting cast of bit players who could come up with the critical basket or rebound. Yes, Johnson scored 24 points and Kelser 19 in the final, but a little lefthanded guard named Terry Donnelly popped in 15 points and a substitute center named Ron Charles grabbed seven rebounds.
In the end Bird and his teammates were left with a 33--1 record, which was about 10 games better than anyone had predicted for them, and a dream that very nearly came true.
Bird, a senior, and Johnson, a sophomore, both turned pro after the game. They faced off three times in the NBA Finals (1984, '85 and '87), with Magic's Lakers twice defeating Bird's Celtics.
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