Larry Bird was a co-star of one of the greatest college basketball national championship games ever – Bird vs. Magic, when the undefeated Indiana State Sycamores took on the co-Big Ten champion Michigan State Spartans in the 1979 championship. Bird was one of the best scorers in the country, a big forward who led the way for the Sycamores from the Missouri Valley Conference to the biggest national stage.

The vitals for Larry Bird

School: Indiana State
Position: Forward
Height: 6-9
Weight: 220 pounds
Years active: 1976-79
NCAA tournament record: 4-1
Career averages: 30.3 points per game, 13.3 rebounds per game, 4.6 assists per game, 53.3% shooting

What was Larry Bird’s record in college?

Indiana State went 81-13 during the three seasons in which Larry Bird played for the Sycamores. Indiana State nearly became the most recent undefeated national champion, reaching the 1979 national title game with a 33-0 record.

NAISMITH AWARDS: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | Defensive Player of the Year

What was Larry Bird’s offensive game like?

While Bird was most known for his scoring, he had a well-rounded game that included double-digit rebound totals and unselfish passing. “He’s 6-9, was the nation’s second leading scorer and that’s not all,” wrote The Evening Sun‘s Bill Tanton. “He’s a great passer and an excellent rebounder. He even plays defense, although that’s not what’s causing the NBA Boston Celtics to salivate over him.”

In an effort to stop Bird, Bradley coach Dick Versace installed what was referred to as the “Bird’s Nest Defense,” where two defenders would guard Bird and the other three defenders would cover the four other Sycamores. Bird took just two shots that night and made both, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, while he helped teammates Carl Nicks and Steve Reed score 50 combined.

While Indiana State coach Bill Hodges was frustrated with the style of defense, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, Bird wasn’t concerned about his lack of shots. Hodges said of Bird, “His only personal goal this year was to lead the nation in rebounds.”

In Bird’s own words, here’s the value he placed on ball movement: “My feeling about passing is that it don’t matter who’s doing the scoring as long as it’s us. I just think when a man is open, he should get the ball whether it’s 30 feet out on the wing or underneath. We had guys last year who didn’t care about passing. They thought scoring was more important, but passing is important.”

What were some of Larry Bird’s best games?

Larry Bird played in the NCAA tournament just once, in 1979, but he made the most of it. He scored 136 points in five NCAA tournament games, leading the Sycamores to the national championship game, where they fell to the Michigan State Spartans. The following comes from The Tampa Bay Times:

His best NCAA tournament game came in the Final Four against DePaul, when he scored 35 points with 16 rebounds and nine assists (all were NCAA tournament highs for him) while shooting 16-of-19 from the field. That came in spite of Bird playing with a fracture in his left thumb in the Final Four after getting hurt against Arkansas.

He was brilliant against the Razorbacks with a a 31-point, 10-rebound game in the regional finals.

Bird had a double-double in all five NCAA tournament games he played in that year. Bird scored a team-high 19 points for the Sycamores in the 1979 national championship game but it wasn’t his most efficient performance as he was just 7-of-21 from the field and 5-for-8 from the free-throw line. Bird passed Otis Birdsong to become the NCAA’s fifth-leading scorer of all-time with a free throw early in the championship game.

Bird was often checked by Magic Johnson in Michigan State’s 2-3 matchup zone in the epic clash of two all-time greats. Bird would typically start offensive possessions on the right block, where he would utilize the right corner of the floor, the fre- throw line extended and the opposite wing.

You can watch the full replay of the ’79 title game below.