Michigan State Hopes To Recreate The March Madness Magic Of 40 Years Ago

On the 40th anniversary of Magic’s title run, Izzo and the MSU Spartans want to make another run at NCAA history.

Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores 75-64 in the 1979 NCAA Title Game. March Madness was officially born on that day.

35 million people tuned in to that game, which remains a viewership record “that has only been approached by the 1985 final between Villanova and Georgetown. After hearing about Bird’s exploits, many viewers were shocked to find that he was white when they settled in to watch the game,” according to The Shadow League’s Ali Danois. Many had heard about Bird and his Player of the Year accolades, along with his remarkable stat line of 29 points, 15 rebounds and six assists per game, but few had actually seen him play because Indiana State did not regularly appear on national television.

The 2019 NCAA Tourney marks the 40th anniversary of what’s now recognized as the most significant game we’ve ever seen in an NCAA Tournament. The significance of the game continues to grow in stature as the impact of these two former hoops legends turned world-changers and culture influencers becomes more viable and apparent.


Magic was a 6-foot-9 basketball savant from Lansing, Michigan, wizard with the pill and an unprecedented combination of size, ball-handling, grace and strength at the point guard position.

Bird was a curly-haired, white dude from a tiny Indiana town called French Lick who was widely recognized as the state’s best player in high school when coaching legend Bobby Knight initially recruited him to play for the Hoosiers. Bird would later transfer to Indiana State.

Together they created a rivalry for the ages and eventually saved a declining NBA. That 1979 title game was the light that sparked the flame.  



Bird’s Indiana State program has never been close to duplicating the success it had in 1979. Michigan State has since advanced to seven Final Four games and won a second National Championship under current coach Tom Izzo in 2000.

Izzo’s in his 24th season at MSU and the university is making its 22nd straight NCAA Tournament appearance —  the 4th-longest streak of all-time.

He arrived at the campus four years after Magic made history and put the wheels in motion for MSU to become the perennial powerhouse it is today.


“Well there is some irony to it,” Izzo said in a TV interview, referring to his relationship with Magic and Michigan State. “We just had that reunion, Ervin was back and with all the guys about a month ago, but that was my first year out of college and my first Final Four.

“My college coach took me to it in Salt Lake City,” said Izzo. “I kind of got adopted by Michigan State and to see Bird and Magic go at it and then actually coach in the school where Magic was and to have Magic in my office and him talking about all the things and talking to my team… it’s been pretty good. It’s one of the greatest NCAA Finals ever and will remain that way as far as TV goes. But it would be nice to follow up with that sometime in the near future.”

It would be fitting that on the 40th anniversary of Magic’s iconic title, Izzo and the gang make another run to celebrate history.  Many would say that the coach’s influence on the rise of Michigan State basketball is as indelible as Magic’s.   

The road to a title won’t be easy for MSU, a No. 2 seed in the East region. Duke is the No. 1 seed in the region.

Before they even get to Duke, MSU has a tough opening opponent in the Bradley Braves. If they advance, they get the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 7 seed Louisville and No. 10 seed Minnesota on Saturday.

According to ESPN BPI, Izzo’s Spartans have a seven percent chance to win the NCAA Title, the 4th-best odds in the field.

Izzo has been able to ride the wave of Magic’s continued impact on the sports landscape and lock in elite recruiting classes, bolstered by local blue-chippers like this year’s point guard extraordinaire, Detroit native Cassius Winston.


The 1979 NCAA title game laid the foundation for many of basketball’s memorable storylines. You can say that college basketball, mega sports networks like ESPN and the NBA have been eating off Magic and Bird’s classic college clash for the last 40 years.

It might be time for karma to repay MSU and the consistency of Izzo with a commemorative national title.

Back to top