In a lot of ways, 1979 is a very long time ago. Chronologically it’s 43 years ago but in terms of the NCAA tournament it’s probably more than a lifetime ago.
Duke and Kentucky had been in the 1978 Finals and Duke entered the season as the #1 team but things went off the rails for that team as Bill Foster could not deal with pressure as Mike Krzyzewski later would.
The 1979 tournament was on NBC and dsfeatured just 40 teams and no shot clock or three point shot. It was just 10 years after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrapped up his UCLA career and just three years after Bob Knight led Indiana to an undefeated national championship.
Knight had successfully recruited Larry Bird, who should have been on that 1976 Indiana team, but he was overwhelmed with the size of Indiana University and socially (although not athletically) intimidated by some of his teammates.
So he took some time off and later came back to Indiana State, where he emerged as a star.
Only how could anyone have known?
ESPN wasn’t even on the air until that September and few believed that an all-sports network could make it, and of course there was no YouTube. All you saw were occasional grainy highlights of this ghostly white dude in a pale blue uniform shooting insanely long shots and making incredible passes.
Meanwhile, Magic Johnson had enrolled at Michigan State and the two had met on an international team.
They would meet again in the 1979 championship that would redefine college basketball and soon they would go on to revive the NBA which, in the late 1970’s, was in terrible shape.
Johnson and Michigan State won this matchup but it was just a precursor for the greatness that would soon follow. And much of that would turn up on ESPN, if only on Sports Center.