On March 26, 1979, Magic Johnson led Michigan State past Larry Bird and Indiana State for the NCAA championship. The game, watched by nearly a quarter of the country, is credited with creating the buzz surrounding the NCAA Tournament and what is now referred to as “March Madness.”
The 1979 title game brought together two teams and two players representing opposite ends of the spectrum in American society, a storyline that generated interest amongst an entire nation.
Michigan State from the powerhouse Big Ten conference was led by Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a flashy, gregarious point guard who represented black and urban America. On the other side, unheralded Indiana State had gone 33-0 on the back of Larry Bird, the reclusive “hick from French Lick” who represented white and small town America.
You could not have scripted a better scenario to create a heayweight event. On one hand, the two were extremely similar—ultimate winners and great team players—however, on the flip side you couldn’t find two guys who were so different on so many fundamental levels, the most obvious being race.
The game itself was not the best championship game ever. Michigan State was in control for essentially the entire game, holding Bird to 7 of 21 shooting. Magic's greatest performance had come two days earlier, in the national semifinals, when he ran the University of Pennsylvania off the court with a triple-double. But no basketball game, before or since, college or professional, produced the anticipation, television ratings, impact or reaction of Indiana State-Michigan State, Bird vs. Magic.