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Bird prefers not to relive classic NCAA Tournament final matchup with Magic

Larry Bird, left, and Earvin “Magic” Johnson relish discussing their meeting in the 1979 national championship game.

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Larry Bird, left, and Earvin “Magic” Johnson relish discussing their meeting in the 1979 national championship game.

DETROIT — Earvin "Magic" Johnson doesn't miss a chance to sit back and relive a college basketball game that reshaped the sport, the 1979 NCAA finale between his Michigan State Spartans and Indiana State.

But former Indiana State star, Larry Bird, is yet to see a replay. Even 30 years later.

"Why? I mean, truthfully I can remember a lot of the games I played in, especially that one," said Bird, sitting next to his good friend and rival, Johnson, about an hour before Monday night's national championship game at Ford Field.

"I mean, just like (Sunday) night, I was going through the channels to find the show I was going to watch. I seen (Indiana State teammate) Bobby Heaton talking about 30 years ago. I watched it for a second, then they flipped to the game, and I turned the channel real quick. Them were not good memories for me."

"I watched it enough for him and I," Johnson chimed in, adding he happened across a replay on an ESPN channel just this past weekend.

Bird good-naturedly suggested Johnson didn't miss a day, "especially if he knows he's gonna be with me." All kidding aside, you can tell how much he and Johnson respected and admired how the other played the game, something that captivated college fans three decades ago (it remains the highest-rated college game) and increased interest in it even with them playing the next year against one another in the NBA.

Not that the game was a thriller. Johnson and Greg Kelser were too much for Bird's bunch, winning 75-64.

Johnson scored 24 to lead the Spartans, while Kelser had 19 points, eight rebounds and nine assists despite foul trouble. Bird, doggedly defended all night, scored 19 — on 7-of-21 shooting —and added 13 rebounds. Bird had told himself before the game that if he didn't score 40, his team wouldn't win.

Johnson rooted for the Spartans on Monday, and said of the loss: "I'm still proud of my guys. They played five great games to get here, but they just couldn't do it another time. It's still been an amazing ride."

No fan of the setup: North Carolina coach Roy Williams isn't a fan of the raised floor in use here.

"If I ever turn into an architect, I would not build a gym like that," he said. "Is it better for the fans? I don't know. But I'm not a fan, I'm a coach. That is extremely uncomfortable for me."

He prefers to watch a game sitting on the bench or kneeling by his seat so he can easily talk to his assistants and his players. But with the court raised, if he sat on the bench he wouldn't be able to see the far end of the floor as well. He also has seen firsthand the potential safety concerns one can raise with an elevated floor.

"When we played Michigan State here before (in December), we had a guy go off the court, one of the Michigan State players," Williams said. "That scared me. … I almost fell off the stupid court. That scared me."

Familiar foes: This marked the fifth time UNC and Michigan State met in the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels won the previous meetings: in the 1957 Final Four in Kansas City, Mo.; in the 1998 East Region semifinal in Greensboro, N.C.; in the 2005 Final Four in St. Louis; and in the 2007 East Region second round in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Familiar scenario: Monday's championship game was a rematch of a regular-season matchup, the third time the Tar Heels found themselves in such a position, against a Big Ten team each time.

In 1981, they beat Indiana during the season and lost when it counted the most but reversed that scenario in 1993 against Michigan, losing early then winning at the end.

Bird prefers not to relive classic NCAA Tournament final matchup with Magic 04/06/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 12:53am]
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