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When Bird and Magic played together, way before the Dream Team

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  • When Bird and Magic played together, way before the Dream Team

    Well, it actually happened 40 years ago when a so called “World Invitational Tournament” for national teams was organized to be played in some US cities from April 5-9, 1978.

    Four nations participated in the round-robin tournament, the two top European national teams, reigning champ Yugoslavia and the mighty Soviet Union team, along with Cuba (one of the leading basketball forces in Latin America at that time). USA was represented by a young but highly talented college All-Stars team, under the coaching of Joe B. Hall who had just led his University of Kentucky to the NCAA title.

    The tournament was sponsored by the Amateur Basketball Association of the US (ABAUSA, the then National governing body and forerunner of USA Basketball until 1989) and was officially sanctioned by NCAA allowing underclassmen to participate. The event was part of the U.S. Pan American Games (1979) and Olympic development program and the first tournament held in the United States to be played under international rules (1).

    Short time was as usual available to assemble the US team and Hall relied on five of his NCAA champs for the starting lineup: seniors Rick Robey, James Lee and Jack Givens (the NCAA finals MVP) on frontcourt and sophomore guards Kyle Macy and Jay Shidler. The 2nd unit included Darrell Griffith of Louisville, Sidney Moncrief of Arkansas, Joe Barry Carroll of Purdue, James Bailey of Rutgers, David Greenwood of UCLA, Larry Bird of Indiana State and Magic Johnson of Michigan State. A well loaded bench, indeed!

    Here’s what the Courier-Journal of Louisville wrote on April 5, 1978, about the team preparation:
    Down to business Hall, U.S. All-Stars have little time to prepare for first World tourney…Just nine days ago, Joe Hall was in St. Louis, coaching in the pressure-packed NCAA championship game eventually won by his Kentucky team, 94-88 over Duke. Then he celebrated. Now Hall is back at it again but under less pressure for the next five days when he guides the U.S. National team in the first World Invitational Tournament that gets under way tonight in Atlanta. "I enjoy these kids," Hall said Monday night after the U.S. team won a tuneup over Marathon Oil of Lexington 84-70. "You're working with awfully good players. The big thing is they really can do so many things. It's a pleasure coaching them. And quite an experience." …Earvin (Magic) Johnson missed Monday's outing to attend Michigan State's basketball banquet. "It was shaky," Hall said in evaluating the performance. "It's going to really be hard to get the team ready to play any effective team ball. I hope our Kentucky unit can play a little team ball and the others kind of run them down." No doubt, the U.S. team will shoot better than it did against Marathon when it hit a mediocre 40 per cent from the floor. But the team showed its strength on the boards, outrebounding Marathon by 24 in one unofficial count. The players showed no selfishness, the high-scoring Bird, for instance, took only one of his long jumpers and most of the turnovers came on passes inside, when the intended receiver was expecting a shot from the outside. "We'll have to compensate for our lack of offensive effectiveness by not letting the other team run their offense." Hall said. The U.S. team opens the round-robin series of doubleheaders against Cuba, then meets Yugoslavia Friday in Chapel Hill, N. C. North Carolina's Phil Ford and Mike O'Koren will join the club for that one game only. The windup comes Sunday in Lexington where the U.S. meets Russia… The team with the best record at the end of the series receives the Converse Cup to be displayed at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass… While Hall may be having fun, the idea is to win this three-game series against teams from the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Cuba. With the little time Hall has had to work with all but five members of the U.S. team, that may be difficult. The Soviet team is a veteran of U.S. tours. It finished 5-8 in a November series, losing 109-75 to Kentucky at Memorial Coliseum. But the Russians were then without guard Sergey Belov, who missed seven games with a leg injury. When they returned in January, they finished 4-1, beating UCLA on national television.
    With Magic Johnson, Carroll and Griffith just teenagers and the others averaging 20.7 years, US team was really young. However, some players had already earned international experience: Robey at the 1975 Pan American Games when he was just 19, Bailey, Bird, Griffith and Moncrief as teammates at the 1977 World University Games, while Magic had starred that same year at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament leading to victory one of the best ever teams in nearly 60 years of this U19/U18 event. Finally, North Carolina’s Phil Ford, who joined the US team just for one game, had been crowned the 1976 Olympic champ.

    The 1978 US WIT team history was covered by USA Basketball long gone old site and the link on the current site is dead. I have therefore provided an overview of the team roster. Data source: USA Basketball History (old site), The Draft Review, Wiki and my personal research.

    Name Pos Height Age Class School NBA Draft Previous Int'nal Exp
    James Bailey C 6-9 20 1979 Rutgers 1979 - 1R #6 pick WUG 1977 (gold)
    Larry Bird F 6-9 21 1979 Indiana St 1978 - 1R #6 pick* WUG 1977 (gold)
    Joe Barry Carroll C 7-1 19 1980 Purdue 1980 - 1R #1 pick
    Phil Ford * G 6-2 22 1978 North Carolina 1978 - 1R #2 pick Oly 1976 (gold)
    Jack Givens F 6-5 21 1978 Kentucky 1978 - 1R #16 pick
    David Greenwood F 6-9 20 1979 UCLA 1979 - 1R #2 pick
    Darrell Griffith G 6-4 19 1980 Louisville 1980 - 1R #2 pick WUG 1977 (gold)
    Earvin Johnson G 6-8 18 1981 Michigan St 1979 - 1R #1 pick (soph) AST 1977 * (gold)
    James Lee F 6-6 22 1978 Kentucky 1978 - 2R #39 pick
    Kyle Macy G 6-3 20 1980 Kentucky 1979 - 1R #22 pick *
    Sidney Moncrief G 6-4 20 1979 Arkansas 1979 - 1R #5 pick WUG 1977 (gold)
    Mike O'Koren * F 6-7 20 1980 North Carolina 1980 - 1R #6 pick
    Rick Robey C 6-10 22 1978 Kentucky 1978 - 1R #3 pick Pan Am Games 1975 (gold)
    Jay Shidler G 6-1 20 1980 Kentucky 1980 - 9R #183 pick
    * 1 game vs Yugoslavia * junior, played out his final season * Albert Schweitzer U18 Tournament

    Bird & Magic young teammates on Team USA at the 1978 WIT

    (1) source USA Basketball History old site, Courier-Journal of Louisville, April 5, 1978


  • #2
    Game 1: USA - Cuba 109-64

    The young USA team, led by Jack Givens 17 points, used a devastating fastbreak attack to crush Cuba 109-64 in the opening round. The USA team completely outmanned the older, shorter Cuban squad, jumping to an early lead. US All-Stars held the Cubans scoreless over a 6 minute stretch while running off a 43-11 lead with 6:26 left in the half. The US spurt was sparked by Darrell Griffith with two free throws, a slam dunk and an 18 foot jumper (1).

    From the New-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Mich – April 6, 1978:
    Hall Smiles As U.S. Team Crunches Cuba ATLANTA (AP) - Coach Joe B. Hall...was in high spirits Wednesday night after his U.S. national team overpowered Cuba in the nightcap of the first annual World Invitational Tournament…Hall, who admitted to the pressure of winning the national collegiate title this year and rarely smiled en route to that triumph, was beaming continually Wednesday night. He was afforded the luxury since his squad completely dominated the smaller Cubans from the outset…. "It’s a different kind of pressure,” said Hall. "We feel it as representatives of the United States. We haven’t had adequate time to prepare for the games but we made up for it with hustle and spirit.” He should have added talent.
    The Americans were awesome, racing to a 16-3 lead in less than five minutes and had the game sewed up at halftime as they led 56-21. All 12 players…saw action and all scored except Jay Shidler of Kentucky... "We recognize, however, that Yugoslavia and Russia will be on a different plateau,” said Hall as the series moves to Chapel Hill, N.C., Friday night and Lexington, Ky., on Sunday.
    Besides Givens, Moncrief scored 15 points, Greenwwod, Griffith, Macy and Robey added 12, while Bird and Magic contributed with 4 points (1).

    In the opening game Drazen Dalipagic, Dragan Kicanovic and Kresimir Cosic combined for 74 points to give Yugoslavia a 97-79 victory over Russia (1).

    Yugoslavia, arguably the best European team and next Fiba World champ later that same year, was loaded with true talents like Dalipagic, Kicanovic, Cosic and Mirza Delibasic and proved to be the closest contender to US team in the second round played in Chapel Hill, NC.

    Game 2: USA - Yugoslavia 88-83

    From The Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY, Saturday, April 8, 1978:
    U.S. team rallies to hand Yugoslavia 88-83 setback. Rutgers center James Bailey scored 14 points to lead the United States national team to an 88-83 victory over Yugoslavia in the second round of the World Invitational Tournament…The U.S. team trailed early in the game with Yugoslavia but moved ahead 37-35 with four minutes left in the first half on a jump shot by Kentucky's Kyle Macy.
    The second half was a see-saw battle most of the way until Macy hit a jump shot with two minutes to go to make it 84-79 and nearly iced the victory. Dragan Kicanovic led Yugoslavia with 22 points, and Mirza Delibasic had 18. North Carolina's Phil Ford had 13 to back up Bailey, and Macy had 12.
    USSR disposed of Cuba 108-78 behind the scoring of ace Aleksander Salnikov and the inside rebounding dominance of 7-foot-4 center Vladimir Tkachenko setting up a USA-USSR title match to be played April 9 in Lexington, Ky.

    Game 3: USA - USSR 107-82

    US collegians dominated the final game scoring over 100 points against the experienced and always competitive Soviet national team led by HoF Sergey Belov.

    From the NY Times archives, April 10, 1978:
    Lexington, Ky., April 9 (AP)—Jack Givens scored 15 points to help the United States team win the World Invitation Tournament today with a 107‐82 victory over the Soviet Union national basketball team before 12,014 fans in Rupp Arena.
    Givens, who starred at the University of Kentucky, scored 6 points in a 16‐2 spurt by the United States that widened a 55‐40 advantage at halftime to 71-42.
    Darrell Griffith of the University of Louisville added 14 points and Sidney Moncrief of Arkansas scored 13 as the United States got balanced scoring that offset a 32‐point performance by the Soviets’ Sergei Belov. James Bailey of Rutgers and Earvin Johnson of Michigan State scored 11 points each.
    The United States ended the round-robin tournament with a 3-0 won‐lost record and the Soviet team finished at 1‐2. In an earlier game, Branko Skroce scored 15 points in the second half as the Yugoslav national team held off a rally by Cuba and took 98-80 victory.
    Based upon the old USA Basketball History site, the game was close early at 13-11, then the USA started a 12-0 run, including nine points in only 41 seconds, to grab a wide lead and cruising to the win.

    Givens and Moncrief, the USA's top two scorers, along with Yugoslavia stars Kicanovic and Dalipagic, and the Soviet Union's S. Belov, were named to the All-Tournament Team. Kicanovic, who averaged 21.0 ppg., was selected the Tournament Most Outstanding Player (2).

    What about Bird and Magic playing together? While very little surfaced from the then news, as both were not yet established superstars and played as reserves in Joe Hall’s Kentucky-dominated US team, there is an interesting flashback from the book “When The Game Was Ours”, by Larry Bird, Earvin Magic Johnson and Jackie MacMullan (Nov. 2009), recalling one play of the final game vs Russia. Here’s the description as covered by the NYT Books section:
    “The errant shot came off the glass at a sharp angle, but Larry Bird, charting the flight of the ball, pulled down the rebound and advanced without hesitation, swiveling his head as he examined his options.”

    In this Youtube video some short glimpses of 1978 games vs Russia and Cuba can be watched in the first 2’ and the final moments of Bird-Magic amazing play, as referred in the above link, are shown at 1’45” through 2’01”.

    (1) Source: Fort Walton Beach Playground Daily News (UPI)
    (2) Source: USA Basketball History (old site)


    • #3
      Hi carlo, very interesting read, thank you.

      Bird & Magic then went on to play that historical 1979 NCAA championship game against each other in "The Game That Transformed Basketball", according to one of my favorite sports books, When March Went Mad.
      5 out 6 scientists say Russian roulette is safe.


      • #4
        Great stuff carlo. FWIW here are the scoring totals for each game.

        USA (109): Givens 17, Moncrief 15, Greenwood 12, Macy 12, Griffith 12, Robey 12, Bailey 11, Carroll 6, Lee 4, Johnson 4, Bird 4.
        CUBA (64): Urgelles 16, R. Herrera 10, Luaces 10, Roca 7, T. Herrera 6, Scott 6, More 4, L. Calderon 2, M. Calderon 2, Ortiz 1.

        YUGOSLAVIA (97): Dalipagic 28, Kicanovic 26, Cosic 20, Delibasic 12, Jerkov 6, Nakic 2, Vilfan 2, Zizic 1.
        USSR (79): Zhigili 18, Mishkin 16, Belov 10, Salnikov 9, Korki 6, Eremin 6, Miloserdov 6, Lovaisha 4, Lopatov 2, Tkachenko 2.

        USA (88): Bailey 14, Ford 13, Macy 12, Givens 10, Greenwood 8, Moncrief 8, Griffith 7, Lee 6, Bird 6, O'Koren 2, Robey 2.
        YUGOSLAVIA (83): Kicanovic 22, Delibasic 19, Dalipagic 18, Cosic 16, Radovanovic 5, Vilfan 3.

        USSR (108): Salnikov 21, Belov 14, Mishkin 12, Tkachenko 11, Korki 11, Lopatov 11, Miloserdov 8, Lovaisha 7, Zhigili 7, Eremin 4, Deryugin 2.
        CUBA (78): Roca 18, Scott 14, Urgelles 13, R. Herrera 10, T. Herrera 8, L. Calderon 7, Domecq 6, M. Calderon 2.

        USA (107): Givens 15, Griffith 14, Moncrief 13, Bailey 11, Johnson 11, Lee 10, Greenwood 10, Robey 10, Macy 5, Bird 4, O'Koren 2, Carroll 2.
        USSR (82): Belov 32, Tkachenko 17, Zhigili 14, Korki 7, Eremin 6, Mishkin 4, Lopatov 2.

        YUGOSLAVIA (98): Dalipagic 26, Skroude 17, Kicanovic 15, Radovanovic 14, Zizic 8, Delibasic 6, Vilfan 4, Knego 4, Jerkov 2, Cosic 2.
        CUBA (80): Urgelles 18, T. Herrera 14, Domecq 10, Roca 8, Luaces 6, Ortiz 6, T. Herrera 6, More 6, Scott 2, M. Calderon 2, L. Calderon 2.
        Originally posted by Fedfan
        Most ppl get childish when they lose.
        Originally posted by GuTO
        refs in games of Spain walks with literally poop in his pants afraid of the Spanish players


        • #5
          Thank you all. Concerning the games stats I only had the full scoring of day 1. Based on these additional information Mike O'Koren actually played two games (which fits with USA Basketball cumulative stats), while from my press sources he only showed up in the Chapel Hill game.

          For those interested, here are US team's cumulative stats:

          Jack Givens 3 19/30 .633 4/5 .800 14/5.0 42/14.0 1 0 2
          Sidney Moncrief 3 13/24 .542 10/11 .909 19/6.3 36/12.0 7 2 4
          James Bailey 3 12/26 .462 12/17 .706 7/2.3 36/12.0 6 1 3
          Darrell Griffith 3 13/25 .520 7/9 .778 6/2.0 33/11.0 4 0 0
          David Greenwood 3 12/26 .462 6/12 .500 12/4.0 30/10.0 7 1 6
          Kyle Macy 3 14/20 .700 1/1 1.000 1/0.3 29/9.7 9 0 2
          Rick Robey 3 8/20 .400 8/9 .889 19/6.3 24/8.0 5 2 1
          James Lee 3 8/16 .500 4/7 .571 12/4.0 20/6.7 3 2 1
          Earvin Johnson 3 4/12 .333 7/7 1.000 5/1.7 15/5.0 7 0 5
          Larry Bird 3 7/15 .467 0/0 .000 18/6.0 14/4.7 6 0 7
          Phil Ford 1 6/9 .667 1/1 1.000 0/0.0 13/13.0 3 0 3
          Joe Barry Carroll 3 2/8 .250 4/6 .667 4/1.3 8/2.7 1 3 2
          Mike O'Koren 2 2/4 .500 0/0 .000 1/0.5 4/2.0 0 0 0
          Jay Shidler 3 0/2 .000 0/0 .000 2/0.7 0/0.0 4 0 0
          USA 3 125/237 .527 64/85 .753 128/42.7 304/101.3 65 11 35
          OPP 3 81/177 .458 67/93 .720 78/26.0 229/76.3 37 13 18
          Info source: USA Basketball history (old site).

          Last point, the Yugo player mentioned in the game vs Cuba actually spells Branko Skroče, for some reason all press sources misspelled his name.



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