March Madness: Magic Johnson Brings Sweet 16 Memories Back to Life That Led to NCAA History in 1979

Published 03/29/2024, 12:07 AM EDT

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March Madness is a time for NBA stars to recollect their college basketball memories. It is this stage of the basketball career that sets the tone for things on the big stage. Amid the Sweet-16 of the 2024 March Madness, Magic Johnson recollected his memories of this stage from back in 1979. Notably, this match also created the pathway to one of the NBA’s most popular rivalries, Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird.

Taking to his social media handle, Magic shared highlights of the match where he played against LSU Tigers in the Sweet-16 stage. “Let’s travel back to 1979 when we played LSU during the Sweet Sixteen round of March Madness (in our short-shorts 😂) on our way to winning the championship!”, he wrote in the caption. Magic scored 24 points and 12 assists, leading the Spartans to an 87-71 win over the Tigers. The subsequent victories in the next two rounds led the Spartans to the championship game, where Magic and Larry clashed for the first time.



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As per the Bleacher Report, over 30 million people (NCAA television record rating of 24.1 – about 20 million viewers) witnessed the beginning of this rivalry on March 26. The impact of this rivalry was such that it has often been credited with increasing the NBA’s popularity. An interesting fact about this was that Larry often had a lead over Magic in terms of stat-line. However, he somehow trailed in the number of championships. While Bird has 3 NBA championships, Magic has 5 NBA championships. But the ex-Boston Celtics star averaged higher points (24.3) than his rival (19.5).         

Similarly, in the 1979 NCAA tournament, Larry had a better season as compared to Magic and was even the tournament lead scorer. But it was Buck who claimed the NCAA championship as the Spartans defeated Indiana State Sycamores by a 75-64 score. However, after 1979, the Spartans just won one more NCAA championship in 2000. And it has been a dry spell for more than two decades since then.

Magic Johnson’s Spartans vs. Present Day Spartans


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The Spartans saw an early exit in the 2024 NCAA tournament. North Carolina ousted them 69-85 from the tournament in the second round itself. The team’s guard Tyson Walker believes the problem lies with the execution within the game. “I think we played well. Just didn’t execute, and they did. They (North Carolina) made big plays, we didn’t. For the underclassmen, it’ll be something for them to learn,” he stated.

However, a statistical comparison between the 1978-79 Spartans and the present roster can reveal that even the gameplay has not been up to the mark this season. Magic’s team averaged 75.7 points in 32 games in 1978-79. This season, the Spartans have managed 72.9 points per game. It is important to highlight that this difference is despite NBA rules now favoring higher scoring. The practices such as hand-checking that existed back then have now been banned. This provides an opportunity for higher-scoring games.

Read More: NCAA Bracket Reaction: Magic Johnson Fired Up Over Alma Mater’s Showdown Against Higher Seed


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Also, apart from the fact that the Spartans have not won a championship in the last two decades, the team has not even reached the tournament final for more than a decade. In fact, the last time Spartans qualified for the Elite 8 stage of the NCAA tournament was in 2019. Let us know in the comments about the changes that, in your opinion, could help the team.

Read More: March Madness: Magic Johnson Nearly Forgets Alma Mater’s Victory Due to Oakland Star’s Heroics


Written by:

Khelendra Kumar Yadav


One take at a time

Khelendra is an NBA writer at Essentially Sports, where he brings insightful analysis and engaging content to basketball enthusiasts worldwide. With a passion for the game cultivated from his own experiences as a basketball player, he has represented his school team in numerous tournaments, honing both skills and an intimate understanding of the sport. Khelendra holds a PG Diploma in Digital Media from a reputed university, providing him with a solid foundation in multimedia storytelling and digital content creation.
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Edited by:

Daniel D'Cruz