Bird, Magic enter college hall together
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Larry Bird finished his speech, walked back to his seat and received a fist bump from the man sitting next to him on the dais.
Had to be Magic Johnson.
If college basketball's hall of fame is going to open its doors to one, the other has to be there.
Thirty years after their NCAA battle reshaped college basketball, Bird and Johnson were inducted into the National Collegiate Hall of Fame Sunday night.
Bird and Magic, Magic and Bird -- forever linked.
"We always had a mutual respect for each," Bird said. "You always thought you had to have an edge, at least I did, but we always had that respect for each other. It's kind of fitting that we go into college basketball's hall of fame together."
Bird and Johnson were given automatic entry into the collegiate hall for being members of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. Johnson was joined in the college hall by his coach, Jud Heathcote.
Former Oklahoma star Wayman Tisdale got in, too, as did Travis Grant, college basketball's career scoring leader. Longtime coach Gene Bartow, Walter Byers, the first executive director of the NCAA, and USA Basketball executive director Bill Wall also got the nod.
The marquee names were Bird and Johnson.
From their time together at the 1978 World Invitational Tournament to the Dream Team to their rivalry in the NBA, the two stars have had a connection.
One magical game in Salt Lake City provided the defining moment.
The self-proclaimed "Hick from French Lick" vs. the flashy city kid. Undefeated Indiana State against unstoppable Michigan State. A nation's eyes turned toward one game, the two best players on the best teams facing each other in the NCAA title game.
That one hype-filled game gave the NCAA tournament a larger-than-life aura, made it must-see TV, a multimillion-dollar conglomerate. It even helped save the fledgling NBA.
All because of Bird and Magic.
"We put the madness in March," Johnson said.
Grant put the ball in the basket like no one else.
Arguably the best basketball player many people haven't heard of, he scored more points than Pete Maravich, anyone else for that matter.
Once a kid living below the poverty line in the segregated South, Grant honed his jump shot with a tennis ball and a cutout bucket tacked to the house. He later became known as "The Machine" after hitting the first 10 shots of his career at little Kentucky State, went on to score 4,045 points, still the all-time all-division NCAA record.
Now, Grant finally gets the recognition he deserved.
"This is an honor I will always cherish," Grant said. "I'm proud to take my spot among the greatest players in college basketball history."
Tisdale was a three-time All-American at Oklahoma during the Billy Tubbs era of the 1980s and won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics. The sweet-shooting left-hander averaged 15.3 points during his college career before playing a dozen years in the NBA and becoming an accomplished jazz musician.
Tisdale was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2007 after breaking his leg during a fall at his home and died from the disease in May at 44.
"One of the best things for me is that he was aware of this," Tisdale's widow, Regina, said. "He was excited, called a few people after he found out and told the people who called him: 'We're going in with a pretty good class."
Heathcote made his name by winning the 1979 national championship at Michigan State. He was more than a one-hit wonder, though, leading the Spartans to seven 20-win seasons and sprouting a coaching tree that includes current Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, Utah's Jim Boylen, Tom Crean of Indiana and Dayton's Brian Gregory.
"I'm proud to be involved with what's been called the greatest game in history and pleased that two of the prime players in that game are here to be inducted at the same time as I am," Heathcote said.
Bartow had the unenviable task of being John Wooden's successor at UCLA. He handled it pretty well.
A veteran of 34 years as a coach, Bartow took the Bruins to the Final Four in 1976 and later went on to build a successful Alabama-Birmingham program from scratch. Diagnosed with stomach cancer earlier this year, Bartow won 647 games at six schools, including Memphis State, which he led to the 1973 national championship game against Wooden's Bruins.
"It's been an interesting few months, but it's really an honor for me to be here," said Bartow, currently president of the company that owns the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies. "It's truly a humbling experience and I'm grateful to be here."
Wall did most of his work behind the scenes.
He was executive director of National Association of Basketball Coaches and later had the same title at the organization that became USA Basketball. Hall was driving force behind USA's basketball success at the Olympics and other international competitions, including the 1992 Dream Team with Bird and Johnson.
"People ask me, how did it happen?" Wall said. "Well, I was lucky. I was in the right place in the right time."
Byers was the first executive director of the NCAA, landing the job as a 29-year-old and holding it until he retired in 1987. He helped turn the NCAA from a small organization into one with over 1,000 member schools and increase the number of championship sports (men and women) from 11 to 74.
Byers also was responsible for transforming the NCAA tournament, turning an eight-team event into the current multi-million-dollar-generating March Madness field of 64 teams. He wasn't able to attend the induction ceremony.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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