clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Throwback Thursday: 1979 Ronnie Lester and Magic

Iowa’s last regular season Big Ten title was 1978-79

Earvin Johnson Getting Ready to Shoot
Earvin Magic Johnson

As the Iowa Hawkeyes get set to host the Michigan State Spartans on Thursday, January 14, we take a look back, way back, to the last time the Iowa Hawkeyes won a regular-season Big Ten championship. That year both squads were led by the best basketball players to every don their school uniforms. Earvin Magic Johnson and Ronnie Lester. The 1978-79 Jud Heathcote-led Spartans were 26-6, 13-5 while Lute Olson’s Iowa Hawkeyes were 20-8, 13-5. Purdue also tied for the conference lead. 1979 is most-known for the national championship game pitting Magic vs Larry Bird and Indiana State. Michigan State won both contests that year against the Hawkeyes.

Ronnie Lester

Ronnie Lester was a contortionist

I was 9/10 years old when Ronnie Lester flew around the Fieldhouse. Back then Iowa Hawkeye basketball was must-see TV. My parents would gather with friends to watch the games, and my brother and I would watch the games and during commercials and at halftime play on an indoor hoop. I would try to make shots that Ronnie made. Ronnie did things that no one else could do. Magic Johnson has publicly stated many times that Ronnie Lester is the best basketball player he ever faced in college. Lester’s stats at Iowa 16.9 ppg, 2.3 reb, and 4.8 assists. Most importantly he was what made everything else go. Lester was a two-time first team All-Big Ten selection. Ronnie’s knee injury in the 1980 NCAA tournament is well-documented. Lute Olson was adamant that with Lester, the Hawks would have won the national championship that year. I agree with him. Also, the Ronnie Lester that you see in videos is the post-knee issue Ronnie Lester. Prior to that he could basically do what he wanted when he wanted. He was that good. When I watch Chris Paul at the NBA level I get that same feeling.

Earvin Magic Johnson

At 6-8, 215 pounds the game of basketball had never seen anything like Magic Johnson. Magic was the first point guard that had a center’s height. The game has changed and evolved, I guess you could say; it’s not uncommon today to have NBA players who are 7 feet tall that possess guard skills. Prior to Magic that was unheard of. Earvin played two years of college ball. His stats: 17.1 ppg, 7.6 reb, 7.9 assists. That’s an incredible stat line. Also, both Magic and Ronnie Lester’s stats reflect the era prior to the three point line being implemented.

Sparty and Tom Izzo

There’s no way my guy just fouled!!! None!!!!

In head-to-head meetings since 1949-50, Michigan State leads the Hawkeyes 74-53. During Tom Izzo’s tenure, it has been pretty ugly. The Hawkeyes are 2-14 the last 16 meetings with Sparty. Tom Izzo might be the epitome of the coach you respect, but can’t stand. Izzo’s teams are known for tough defense, rebounding, and quality set plays/quick-hitters. Also, to go along with tough defense, Izzo basically teaches his guys to grab, bump, pull, you name it to slow down another team’s offense. Coach Izzo has built up enough credibility with referees, this typically works for Sparty. Also, each foul that is called on his players is the biggest atrocity in the history of atrocities in his eyes. Michigan State is down this year. And Thursday’s game is thankfully not at the Breslin Center as that’s where Hawkeyes get put out to pasture. The Big Ten standings show that the Michigan Wolverines are atop the conference, but until the Hawkeyes knock off the champ, they will still be in search of that ever-elusive Big Ten championship. Go Hawks!