The dramatic story of how two legendary players burst on the scene in an NCAA championship that gave birth to modern basketball
Thirty years ago, college basketball was not the sport we know today. Few games were televised nationally and the NCAA tournament had just expanded from thirty-two to forty teams. Into this world came two exceptional players: Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird. Though they played each other only once, in the 1979 NCAA finals, that meeting launched an epic rivalry, transformed the NCAA tournament into the multibillion-dollar event it is today, and laid the groundwork for the resurgence of the NBA.
In When March Went Mad, Seth Davis recounts the dramatic story of the season leading up to that game, as Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans and Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores overcame long odds and great doubts that their unheralded teams could compete at the highest level. Davis also tells the stories of their remarkable coaches, Jud Heathcote and Bill Hodges—who were new to their schools but who set their own paths to build great teams—and he shows how tensions over race and class heightened the drama of the competition. When Magic and Bird squared off in Salt Lake City on March 26, 1979, the world took notice—to this day it remains the most watched basketball game in the history of television—and the sport we now know was born.
On Sunday evening, March 25, 1979, the NBC Sports production team gathered in a conference room at the Hotel Utah in Salt Lake City to go over the game plan for the following night’s NCAA men’s basketball championship game. George Finkel, the game producer, spoke first. He laid out the manner in which he and his broadcasting team of Dick Enberg, Al McGuire, and Billy Packer would be presenting the contest between Michigan State and Indiana State.
The next person to speak was Don McGuire (no relation to Al), who produced the pregame, halftime, and postgame segments
"There are no secrets anymore in sport. Good grief, the best eighth-grade basketball players in the country are ranked. With his careful telling of the romantic saga of Magic and Bird, Seth Davis reminds us what fun it used to be when we could still be surprised, when a whole sport could be turned upside down, right before our wondering eyes. It's a delight to relive all that with When March Went Mad."—Frank Deford
“I can’t remember a behind-the-scenes story I have enjoyed more. A transcendent moment in sports that is so fully captured by Seth Davis -- I feel as if I was right in the middle of it all! Thanks, Seth, for the insight as to how this magical game is still a standalone event even thirty years later.”—Jim Nantz
"There is a lot more to what is known as ‘the Magic vs. Larry game’ than meets the eye. In When March Went Mad, Seth Davis does a superb job of shining a spotlight on many of those long-forgotten details."—John Feinstein
"Seth Davis’s When March Went Mad evokes more than a special season. Through deft reporting, he takes you behind the scenes from Terre Haute, Indiana, to East Lansing, Michigan, and on to the famous championship round in Salt Lake City. Best of all, though, Davis captures Larry Bird and Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson as the young basketball genuises they were, basketball’s yin and yang, equal but opposing forces who would transform the game. This is a fine piece of work."—Mark Kriegel
"There are only a few perfect combinations in the world. Peanut butter on toast, scotch on ice, and Seth Davis on basketball."—Rick Reilly