March 26th 1979. For basketball fans, it’s the night the 80’s began.
Before Larry Legend won three NBA titles and an Olympic gold medal, he led his hometown Indiana State Sycamores to an undefeated regular season, and a #1 ranking.
Ervin Johnson wasn’t Magic yet, but he won Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and led the Michigan State Spartans to the National title.
America saw these two coming, it was the highest rated college basketball telecast of all time after all. More importantly, this was the night a new era began. At the time, Earvin Johnson and Larry Bird were just two kids who had led their teams to storybook seasons. As we know, that was just the foreword to an epic NBA rivalry.
For the next decade Magic vs. Bird would define a generation of basketball fans and players. Pitting East coast against West coast, “Showtime” versus the Big Three. Combining for 8 NBA Titles and 6 MVPs in the next 13 years, the Bird versus Magic rivalry brought the NBA from showing the finals on tape delay to the international juggernaut that it is today.
Since then Jordan, Kobe, Duncan and LeBron have each had their turn at the top. But not since have two truly great players enjoyed their peaks simultaneously and put their personal rivalry on display. But now two players may give us another shot at seeing a truly great rivalry.
Earlier this week, the Kansas Jayhawks experienced a special week. Was it finally ending the deplorable 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a home vicory against West Virginia? No. Although you couldn’t tell from the way our fans reacted Saturday. (Really? Tearing down the goalposts after beating a 4-6 team at home? Could be a little much.)
Maybe if you beat K-State this weekend we can talk, at least they’re a rival. We’re better than this.
But I digress.
Kansas basketball takes the cake again, with a great early season showing against a solid Duke team. Maybe, just maybe, we saw the foreword to another pretty era in basketball.
Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker have each already graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, and are considered top talent. They were surrounded by a whole lot of talented players. As many as 11 NBA lottery picks were on the floor in two games. This game, and the Champions Classic in general, had the feel of a Final Four
Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were meeting in just their second regular season game. They weren’t grizzled veterans in the Final Four. Surely each player would be passive and tight. Duke and Kansas started a combined six underclassmen. The game would be sloppy; these teams would be too young to handle this spotlight. Except that’s not what happened.
Between the whistles, the stars shone bright and each team played great. Parker was terrific throughout but especially in a scintillating 21-point first half performance. He drove, he shot, and looked unguardable as Andrew Wiggins sat with two early fouls.
Wiggins countered with a great second half defensively, a sweet turnaround jumper, a late and-1, to knock out Parker and the Blue Devils to secure the win. But you knew that already. You saw it. I’m just asking you to remember it. This could be a game we look back on as the genesis of an epic. Two spectacular talents who have the opportunity to peak at the same time. A true rarity. So pray away the injuries and enjoy the ride.