I needed a break from Leadership and Therapy books. This was perfect.
This is the first “Sports Book” I have ever read. It is the story of the 1979 NCAA finals; the story of Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird.
I have known about these two players my whole life. Lakers v. Celtics. They are two of the best players to ever to play the game. Everyone knows that.
I didn’t know about their college careers. I never knew that Larry Bird almost never went to college. He was dirt poor and he was amazingly shy. (He was also amazingly crass and juvenile at times.)
He enrolled to play for Bobby Knight at Indiana, but dropped out before practice even started. He couldn’t pay the $60 fee for his bowling class; his roommate was rich which made him feel awkward; and coach Knight didn’t say “Hi” to Larry when they passed each other on campus. After being snubbed by his coach Bird packed his bags that afternoon and went home to French Lick, Indiana. (population 3000)
Bird then got a job driving the garbage truck in his home town. He avoided all college recruiters, and likely would have stayed in French Lick and eventually become the Manager of Municipal Waste Management... if Indiana State hadn’t been so persistent.
They tracked him down, and then got blown off multiple times. When Bird’s Grandma invited them in, Larry asked her to keep them distracted so he could sneak out the back door. She made Larry sit down and talk with those gentlemen.
He enrolled at Indiana State to play for the Sycamores. The unknown school went 33-0 his senior year, then came the NCAA Championship game against the Michigan State Spartans.
Magic Johnson was the exact opposite. He had the golden smile, he was charismatic. He loved, and I mean LOVED to talk to the press. He was way too big to be a guard, but that’s what he played. He was a great scorer, but an even better passer and playmaker. He understood the game, and made the alley-oop a trademark.
He chose MSU over the University of Michigan because he wanted to be the star. He wanted to take a mediocre team and make them great. He wanted to lead them to the NCAA championship. His sophomore year, he did just that. They went 25-6 and earned a spot in the championship game against Indiana State.
That game was the most hyped and anticipated college basketball game ever. How can I say that? It had the highest viewership and Nielsen rating of any college basketball game ever – yes all the way through 2012.
35 million people watched that game live on television. ¼ of all television sets in the United States tuned in.
It was the charismatic shining star of Magic vs. the awkward back country talent of Bird.
Most everyone knows the result of that game. Now, thanks to this book, we know the back story.
This book is very well written. It has everything. For the sports fan it has the stats and sports talk. For those looking for the human side – it tells about the families, the effects of success, the dinner table discussions and heart wrenching decisions. It is a perfect meld of story-telling, biography, and basketball play by play.
I loved it.