As Brigham Young said when he first set eyes on the site, "This is the place." Indeed, Salt Lake City was the place last March for the showdown in the NCAA final between Bird State and Magic state, that is to say, Indiana State and Michigan State. Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson were the two best players in the country, and stars of their magnitude have rarely met in the championship game. After the final buzzer sounded, Michigan State rejoiced over its 75-64 triumph, while Bird—held to 19 points by a defense zone he couldn't break—sat on the bench, sobbing into a towel. "Get your head up," said his teammate Alex Gilbert. "We don't want people to think we aren't winners." There was no danger of that.
Caged in by Earvin Johnson (left) and Jay Vincent, Larry Bird couldn't fly.
Bird has the ball, but Johnson had the better night of it, with 24 points and a national title.
"And for my next trick"-Magic, joined by Terry Donnelly, is aglow over his 13 assists and an 80-68 victory over Notre Dame in the Mideast final.
March 13, 1980
Gilbert climbs over Scott Hastings as Indiana State ends Arkansas' title hopes with a 73-71 win over the Razorbacks in the Midwest regional.
The joy of Sycs: Indiana State's Gilbert after the defeat of Arkansas.
A SURPRISE PARTY IN SALT LAKE
It was a year in which an improbable Three made up 75% of the final four, headline writers were up to their aviaries in wordplay, and the locals from the ACC got smoked down on Tobacco Road. Pennsylvania became the first Ivy League team since Princeton in 1965 to reach the NCAA final four, along the way proving it was mightier than No. 3-ranked North Carolina, in the second round of the NCAAs, played in Raleigh no less, the Quakers upset the Tar Heels, and a few hours later St. John's-the last team selected to the tournament's 40-team field-stuffed the ACC myth again with a win over No. 6 Duke. Penn was so lightly regarded that vendors were selling Penn State buttons at the East regional, which the Quakers won by beating St. John's. Meanwhile, a grand old man, Ray Meyer, 65, was leading his almost benchless DePaul team through the west. "I feel like I've been born again," said Meyer after the Demons stunned UCLA, a team they had lost to by 23 points earlier in the season. It was Meyer's first trip to the final four since 1943, his first year as DePaul coach.
Going into the NCAAs, Indiana State was ranked No. 1 because of its unbeaten record, but not that many people believed the Sycamores—Bird and all-were for real until they disposed of Oklahoma and Arkansas in the Midwest regional. They then beat DePaul 76-74 in the semifinal. Michigan State, the one team that seemed to belong, defeated stage-frightened Penn 101-67 in the other semifinal as Magic Johnson scored 29. Two nights later, the Spartans left no doubt as to who was No. 1. The national championship was not the only title Bird lost at the last moment. He finished second for the college scoring title when a 6'3" guard from Idaho State named Lawrence Butler grabbed the scoring lead at midseason and finished with a 30.1-point average, edging out Bird's 28.6. Johnson was the class of an exceptional sophomore class, but he decided to forgo his final two seasons at Michigan State for the bright lights of L.A. and the NBA. The most inspiring performance of the year came from the University of Evansville, which finished 13-16 a year after its entire basketball team and Coach Bobby Watson died in a plane crash.