The 1979 NCAA Championship Showdown Between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson

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The 1979 NCAA Championship Showdown Between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson

When March Went Mad: The Game that Transformed Basketball by Seth Davis
St. Martins Griffin 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0805091519

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.  Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.  These two will go down in the annuals of not just basketball history, but sports history, tied hand in hand.  They revitalized the National Basketball Association with their fierce rivalry.  But it started in an NCAA Division I college basketball championship game in 1979.

In When March Went Mad, Seth Davis recounts how the irrepressible and talented Ervin Magic Johnson of the Michigan State Spartans squared off against the small school hero Larry Bird of the Indiana State University Sycamores in what will always be a storied NCAA Championship Game.

In these pages Davis recounts the early lives of both of these young men, whose personalities and court styles were polar opposites.  Bird, an introverted, hard working player who would have been just as happy cutting grass for the local Parks and Recreation Department as he was playing professional basketball, and the larger than life, happy go lucky, Ervin Johnson, with his huge smile and phenomenal basketball skills. 

Headed toward a collision course, these two would remake the NCAA and it’s now wildly successful tournament.  They were such great talents and good stories, they made the NCAA Championship Game must see TV before 24-hour news coverage and the over exposure of college basketball.  In fact, outside die hard fans, few knew much of anything about Larry Bird, and not a great deal about Magic Johnson.  Today of course we’d know what they ate for breakfast (and maybe even something about their bowel movements) during the tournament.  In 1979, they created hoopla with their talent, as newspaper and magazine articles touted their exploits during the regular season.

Davis does an outstanding job of delving into the personality of both of these athletes and their route to that 1979 championship game where Earvin Johnson will forever have one up on Larry Bird.  He provides stories behind each player’s team and teammates, how they interacted with the press, their peers, and their coaches, and how each lead their team to the showdown that changed the face of college basketball.

Beyond the obvious, detailing the first collision between two of the greatest basketball players of all time, this book has a theme.  How this rivalry, which saved even the NBA from the doldrums, revitalized college basketball and made it relevant, and launched the careers of two superstars.

Highly recommended.

When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball

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