Friday, February 20, 2009

When March Went Mad

When March Went Mad by Seth Davis

Seth Davis has written an in depth account of the breakout 1979 NCAA championship basketball game centered around the 2 superstars: Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The book follows the very different but parallel stories of Bird and Johnson throughout their childhood into high school their high profile recruitment, college careers, the climactic championship game, and then a small portion of their NBA careers.

Johnson was the gregarious extrovert, Bird the quiet and at times reclusive introvert but both were outstanding on the basketball court. Johnson grew up in Lansing, Michigan the same city as Michigan State while bird grew up in French Lick, Indiana. Bird's sometimes rough around the edges persona resulted in the moniker "The Hick From French Lick." Johnson earned his nick name "Magic" from a newspaper reporter during high school.

While Michigan State was a relatively major basketball program, Indiana State, where Bird played, did not compete with the same caliber programs and was comparatively little known as a basketball power. Each of these athletes led their teams to success throughout their college sports careers. Academically, Bird actually completed his degree in education prior to going to the NBA while Johnson left school after his sophomore season to join the pros.

The book is not limited to Bird and Johnson but also delves into the players' college coaches Jud Heathcoate for Johnson and Bob King then Bill Hodges for Bird. Discussion of the coaches' styles is explored with Heathcoate being extremely intense and at times inflammatory and Hodges with a focused but quieter and at times shy style.

Interestingly, Bird was recruited by Bobby Knight at Indiana University first but after enrolling there became overwhelmed by the college atmosphere and dropped out before eventually enrolling in Indiana State.

Prior to reading the book, I did not realize that Johnson played point guard during college. He is 6 foot 8 so was a very tall point guard.

There is also discussion in the book of how NBC helped promote and make the NCAA tournament a big time sporting event. Prior to that time, there was some interest in collegiate basketball but nothing on the scale of what it is today. ESPN was just an idea at that point and broke into its infancy the following year. CBS was also a player that Davis discussed in the television market.

Davis, performed a great deal of research and interviews in writing the book and the resulting detail is excellent. It is both a biographical account of the 2 main characters as well as the season leading up to the landmark game and the supporting cast of coaches, teammates, and media. The thesis is how this championship game helped launch college basketball into the big time and though more time could be devoted to this discussion Davis is convincing in presenting it, at a minimum, as a component in the resulting success and popularity of the sport.

If you found this review helpful please let Amazon know at this link.

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