The 1979 NCAA Tournament championship game will go down as one of the most influential college basketball games ever played. It was Magic Johnson of Michigan State vs. Larry Bird of Indiana State that faced off against each other, but it was Magic who got the best of Larry that night. This game was the genesis of a rivalry that would last another twelve years in the NBA. There is no doubt the influence this game had on college basketball. The 24.1 Nielsen rating generated that night is still the highest rating for any basketball game, college or pro, in the history of the sport. For both of their storied collegiate careers, Larry and Magic will be honored and inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in late November.
Larry Bird joined WHB in Kansas City to talk about his induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, what it was like to play in the 1979 NCAA National title game, some of the drastic changes he has noticed in college basketball since that championship game, and how hard he had to work at the sport to be as great as he was.
On being inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame:
“Well obviously it is a great honor. Being inducted with Magic at the same time is just great because I don’t really get to see him that often, but when I do we always have a lot of fun. I think it is going to be a great night and we are both excited about it.”
On whether he can believe that it has been thirty years since playing Magic Johnson in the 1979 NCAA Championship game:
“Well the way my body feels, yeah. Not really I mean times flies but obvious we remember all of it. We had a heck of a run. We had a nice little team there but they were just better that day.”
On Indiana State beating the Russian National team in college is when they realized they were a good team:
“The Russians were pretty good that year. The problem is that they play about five games in six nights so we caught them on that last night. We knew they were really talented but we didn’t really know how good we were. After that game we felt a little bit better and people thought we were.”
On the talent on the rest of his Indiana State team:
“Well I had a very good player in Carl Nicks. Carl came back to Indiana State after going to a junior college. Once we were able to get him I thought we were the type of team that can win a lot of games. Obviously I didn’t think we could win 33 in a row. We had a lot of guys that were basically role players that fit in. They knew their role. They played their role to perfection and they knew who was going to score the points. It was a pretty good setup for all of us because we had me and Carl who would score a lot of points and a lot of roles players that did their job well.”
On whether he knew the impact the 1979 NCAA Championship game would have on college basketball:
“No. A kid from French Lick, Indiana just goes and plays and tries to do his best and move on. We had no clue at what that game meant. We knew it was a monster game for us not only for us but for the state and our school. It’s just that we had no idea what was going on.”
On his memories about why he thought Michigan State was able to beat them:
“Well they had some great players and their defense on me was a little tougher because were longer and quicker than I was used to playing against. I didn’t play well. I knew I had to play extremely well. I had to play my game that night in order for us to have an opportunity to win it and it didn’t happen and they had a lot to do with it.”
On how hard he had to work at the sport to be as great as he was:
“Well I have been very blessed to have great coaches all the way through even when I was in biddy basketball they show you the proper fundamentals. Being from a small town, our high school coach no matter what grade you were in he was always around the courts trying to help you everyday. I have been pretty blessed throughout my career to have great coaches that teached me the game the right way, how to shoot it the proper way and how much time I need to spend to get better. I know I spent a lot of time out there trying to perfect my skills. I have always considered myself a fundamental player and if I had the fundamentals down I think I could out play just about anybody because basketball is a pretty simple game if you do the things the right way.”