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Filling the Void: The Magic/Bird Prequel

The beginning of the greatest rivalry in NBA History began in 1979.

Magic Johnson Statue by Breslin Center is licensed under CC BY SA-4.0

Filling the Void: The Magic/Bird Prequel


Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

We’re several weeks into our worldwide attempt to “flatten the curve” and have been offering daily escapes into the sporting events of yesteryear through our “Filling The Void” series. We’ve looked back on the inspiring, mind-boggling and remarkable events as well as the ordinary, daily games we’ve been missing in our lives. We here at The Turf Sports sincerely hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy and being safe through these trying days. We’d also like to take a moment to send out a huge THANK YOU to all of those front-line folks keeping society going – from the medical community to those stocking grocery store shelves, delivering supplies around the country or helping us all fight this virus together in some other essential, invaluable way. You are all heroes.

Today: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson face off in the first Finals of their incredible careers.



Larry Bird and Magic Johnson’s rivalry transcended basketball. Both players played on opposite ends of the country, and every season began slowly walking towards each other. During the 1980s, Bird and Magic faced off a total of three times in the NBA Finals, and narrowly missed each other on multiple occasions.

However, in 1979 these two titans of the game clashed in the NCAA Championship game. And for the first time, we witnessed the two stars that would change the game forever, play against each other.

Michigan Magic

Magic Johnson almost didn’t attend Michigan State after he was recruited by schools like UCLA and Indiana. At the end of the day, however, Magic chose the Spartans, mainly because he could start as a freshman and play point guard. Michigan State’s East Lansing campus was also right in his backyard.

In his freshman season, Magic averaged just under a triple-double a game, with 17 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.4 assists for the Spartans. With Magic running point, the Spartans made it to the 1978 Elite Eight, only to fall to the eventual champion Kentucky Wildcats.

Flight of the Bird

Bird also chose to stay close to home when picking colleges. The “Hick from French Lick” initially accepted a scholarship to attend Indiana University but dropped out less than a month into the year. Citing the large student body and quick-moving pace of Bloomington, Indiana, Bird went home to sort things out. Eventually, he enrolled at Indiana State and instantly made an impact for the Sycamores.


For both Magic and Bird, this game was the first taste of glory in both of their collegiate basketball careers. Bird’s Sycamores came into the Championship game a perfect 33-0, the number 1 seed in the Mideast division. Magic’s Spartans, who played in a tougher conference, were 25-6 and entering the tournament as the 2-seed in the Midwest.

Little did everyone know that they were watching the first of many hard-fought battles between two of the greatest to ever play. What a privilege to be in the presence of such greatness. That’s the funny thing about life. You often never know the value of a moment until long after it’s over.

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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