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Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009

Bird, Magic inducted to college hall of fame

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) 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.

News photo
Top of the class: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson embrace after being inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday. AP PHOTO

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 team 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.

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