41 YEARS AGO TODAY: MAGIC VS. BIRD


I rarely (never) talk basketball, but today marks the 41st anniversary of a significant occasion. On this date in 1979, Michigan State (Magic Johnson) and Indiana State (Larry Bird) clashed in the NCAA men’s basketball final. Michigan State won, 75-64.

That game remains the most-watched basketball game in U.S. history: 40 million watched, and the Nielsen rating was 24.1.

That game (and those two players) resurrected basketball. The NCAA tournament became March Madness.

Magic and Bird then went to the NBA and saved pro basketball. Before them, the NBA Finals were televised via tape delay after the 11 o’clock news.

Magic and Bird may be the most important figures in modern-day basketball history. They paved the way for the impact made by Michael Jordan.

It was a PR/marketing dream: A black guy vs. a white guy, with each playing pro on a great team in a major market after clashing in arguably the biggest college game ever.

What a rivalry. Magic won that day. He won five NBA titles, Bird three. Magic was thrice MVP of the NBA Finals, Bird twice. Each was NBA MVP three times. Their battles were intense, but skilled and graceful. It made basketball attractive to casual fans.

Like me.

Thumbnail Courtesy of Getty Images.

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