I read When the Game Was Ours in one day. This book--written by ESPN and Boston sports writer Jackie McMullen--just brought back too many memories of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. I couldn't put this book down.
Early in the book, I read about the first nationally televised ISU game against Wichita St. (January 1979). The game was played during a blizzard, and many roads were closed. And I had tickets. I remember that Saturday morning, telling my mother that my best friend, Bryan, and I were still driving 25 miles to Terre Haute to see the game. "You're not going," mom told us, "have you looked outside? They've got the highways closed."
My car was an Oldsmobile Toronado, the first front-wheel drive car that was manufactured, and my dad intervened and said, "Oh, Pauline, let 'em go see Larry! The front wheel drive will cut through this! Let the boys have their fun! This is Larry Bird we're talking about!"
On our way to the game we were stopped by one police officer who asked us, "Where the hell are you boys headed? This highway is closed!"
"We've got tickets to the ISU game," I said proudly.
"Lucky SOBs! Get the hell out of here!" he said, waving us through a foot of snow.
What a game. Larry scorched WS for something like 45 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 assists--all in an era when triple-doubles in college were unheard of. Larry did it all. So did Magic.
The championship NCAA game in 1979 between ISU and Michigan State? My memories are whole and intact . . . I watched the game on the TV in our basement with family and some friends, along with millions of other Americans who wanted to see Larry and Magic.
But oddly enough, throughout my childhood I'd always been a Laker fan. I'd grown up watching Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Elgin Baylor and Happy Hairston. And even though Larry was in Boston, I still loved the Lakers and rooted for them whenever they played Boston.
This rivalry in the 80s and early 1990s between the Lakers and Boston, and more specifically between Larry and Magic, is what made the NBA. I didn't know much, but there was no doubt that both of these guys were light-years ahead of other college players and they both carried their respective teams in the NBA. I read box scores daily in college keeping up with both of these guys.
I really liked this book, but it is obvious that there are few professional players in any sport who now play the game like Larry and Magic did some years back. Their life was the game. Period. And I found it amazing that Larry Bird forfeited $5 million from his contract to the Celtics when he retired because he felt he "hadn't earned it." It would have been the largest payday of his life, and he just gave it back. "I don't keep what I don't earn," he said.