Each Monday until the national championship is played in Indianapolis on April 5, One Great Season will count down the Top 10 National Championship games since 1979, when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson squared off in Salt Lake City. Today's No. 10 is actually that 1979 game between Indiana State and Michigan State.
By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
That Michigan State beat Indiana State, 75-64, is almost irrelevant.
The 1979 national championship is known as the game that really put the great sport of basketball on the map. The TV map, at least.
Sure, there were great Final Fours long before Larry Bird and Magic Johnson led their teams to Salt Lake City, but this one in particular, thanks to those two, introduced the nation to what would become arguably the biggest sporting event in America: March Madness.
Contrasting styles made the Bird-Magic rivalry intriguing for a national television audience that to this day remains the most watched national championship game in NCAA history.
One was a hillbilly, blue-collar white kid from rural Indiana against a flashy magician with a million-dollar smile. One was a lights-out shooter, the other an assist king who practically patented the no-look pass. Each made his teammates around him better, and both filled up their stat sheets by being multi-dimensional.
On the night that Bird and Magic closed out their brilliant collegiate careers, a great American rivalry was born and even more sparkling NBA careers awaited for them both. The fiery competitors would become great friends despite their three head-to-head NBA Finals matchups. Magic's Lakers would take two of those three and five championships overall, while Bird's Celtics won a total of three NBA titles. All 10 of the NBA Finals played in the 1980s included at least one of these teams.
In fact, when the Celtics edged the Lakers in 1984, the seventh game of that series drew the largest television audience in NBA history, and the second-largest audience to ever watch a basketball game, behind -- you guessed it -- that 1979 NCAA title game.