DETROIT - Even Magic Johnson thinks it will be a tall order for Michigan State to defeat North Carolina.
Shortly before tipoff Monday night, Johnson and Larry Bird held a news conference commemorating their historic NCAA championship meeting 30 years ago. Johnson and Michigan State defeated Bird and Indiana State 75-64 in the game that scored the highest television ratings in the history of the championship.
Later, the two carried on an unforgettable rivalry with Johnson leading the Los Angeles Lakers and Bird carrying the Boston Celtics in almost yearly trips to the NBA finals.
Johnson has been a consistent presence in the stands following Michigan State this season. He sounded hopeful that the Spartans would win, but convinced the Tar Heels were better.
"Michigan State knows they're up against it," Johnson said. "They're playing against the best team in basketball."
Johnson said he has heard from former Lakers general manager and ex-Tar Heel Mitch Kupchak about the game. Former North Carolina point guard Kenny Smith bet Johnson a dinner on the game.
Regardless of who wins, Johnson said the Final Four weekend has turned out perfectly for him.
"I want to thank the NCAA for bringing the Final Four to Detroit," Johnson said. "What a blessing. You can't dream this up. Larry and I were coming anyway (to commemorate the 30th anniversary), right? And then Michigan State goes all the way (to the finals)? Aw, man.”
Bird, who’s always been the less talkative of the two friendly rivals, said he’s never watched film of the 1979 game because Indiana State lost and he didn’t play well. He said he was flipping through the channels and saw a replay Sunday night, and quickly changed the channel.
He said he admired the way North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough came back to school with intentions of competing for another NCAA title. And he had a message for tonight’s loser.
“If you don’t remember it, somebody’s going to bring it up to you for the next 30 years, 40 years,” he said.