MSU alumni recount the thrill of MSU basketball national titles
On March 26, 1979, Scott Westerman, like many other MSU students, alumni and fans, huddled around the television cheering on his Spartans in the NCAA title game against Indiana State. Less than a year after his graduation from MSU Westerman was living in the Lansing area with his wife, who was pregnant with the couple’s first child — their daughter, Shelby.
“She was a very quiet child until that last game,” Westerman said. “That was when we knew for sure she was coming, because she started kicking about the time things started to get interesting. She was born the following September and has been a Spartan fan ever since.”
Westerman is just one Spartan fan with his own recollections of the day the Spartans won their first NCAA basketball championship. Alumni Jay Williams, Todd Rosin and two of their other fraternity brothers drove from East Lansing to Park City, Utah to see the championship game live, skiing and watching tournament games in bars along the way.
“(Four) of us, (eight) pairs of skies crammed into my Mustang II headed for Steamboat, Aspen, Park City and the all time greatest NCAA Basketball National Championship Game ever,” Rosin said in an email. “Heading to the game, bought tickets I think 30 minutes before tip off. We were in the last row, but totally worth it ... I still have pictures of the game and the car in the middle of nowhere on our way to (Park City).”
Amanda Weinstein, an alumna who graduated in 2001, was living in an apartment complex during the Spartans’ 2000 championship run and was not on campus after the final victory. However, she said she could hear cheers throughout her apartment complex during the game.
“It was all anyone could talk about,” Weinstein said of the scene on campus after the victory. “People like me who are total fair weather fans, are like, 'Oh, yeah, you know, (Mateen) Cleaves did this, and then, you know, (A.J.) Granger did that,' and I don’t think I had any idea what I was talking about that, but, for those four years I was there, I was the biggest basketball fan."
Both championships are linked by the deep postseason runs that immediately preceded them: the 1977-78 Spartans advanced to the Elite Eight, while the 1998-99 Spartans had made it all the way to the Final Four, losing to Duke in the national semifinal game.
“We were very spoiled, my class,” Weinstein said. “Because the year before, they made it to the Final Four. So we always assumed that Michigan State would be a great ... basketball team and a really stinky football team, that was just my generation of it.”
Alumna Sherri Everett’s then-boyfriend, now her husband, was in California for a co-op during the winter term of 1978-79, so she had an extra ticket to each regular season game to take a friend to. She recalled a certain “vibe” in Jenison Field House that season that let her know something special was in store.
“It was always super packed, obviously,” Everett said. “Magic (Johnson) just had this really unselfish attitude about playing basketball, but yet it was so much fun. You know, that giant smile. His attitude was so great, and it was contagious.”
Johnson’s personality was part of what made the 1978-79 Spartans so electrifying for many students. As a Lansing native, Johnson was a known figure on MSU’s campus even before he enrolled; Everett said he would sometimes play basketball at the outdoor courts near Brody Hall when he was a junior in high school. Westerman, who worked at Lansing pop and disco radio station WVIC, recalled Johnson coming into the station after finishing his homework to play some of his favorite music. Westerman said he remembers Johnson as a fan of the Commodores, among other artists.
“One of the things I’ve always liked about Earvin is his authenticity,” Westerman said. “No matter how successful he’s become, he’s always remained accessible and is a truly nice guy, I mean, what you see is the way he is, and that was definitely evident when he was on campus.”
Everett said both she and her husband come from families with large contingents of University of Michigan alumni and the championship gave them bragging rights for a period of time.
“We always kind of take the stand in our family that we’re just quiet,” Everett said. “Because our Michigan siblings and parents tend to be very vocal about how wonderful they are, and to just be able to silence them for a year is very, very nice. We don’t have to say a whole lot, you know?”
For Westerman, winning the basketball championship was “an affirmation of the best that Spartans can be.”
“When we are at our best, we’re about excellence, we’re about teamwork, we’re about accessibility, we’re about opportunity,” Westerman said. “There were players on that team that represented every one of those characteristics of what it means to be a Spartan. And it really just kind of amplified what we already knew that we were as Spartans, and the ripples of that year continue to be felt across the generations."