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Michigan State basketball celebrates 40th anniversary of 1979 championship

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Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser among players to come back to East Lansing to celebrate.

Michigan State 1979 championship team celebrates 40th anniversary at the Breslin Center on Feb. 9, 2019.
Michigan State 1979 championship team celebrates 40th anniversary at the Breslin Center on Feb. 9, 2019.
Lauren Gewirtz

EAST LANSING, Mich. — There was a lot of celebrating at the Breslin Center Saturday, between Michigan State’s 79-55 win over Minnesota and players from the 1979 team returning to East Lansing to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the championship.

Prior to the game, Ron Charles and Greg Kelser spoke to the media about the victory and their experiences at MSU.

“When you win a championship, it’s something that never goes away,” said Kelser. “It cements your legacy as a group and we were very fortunate to be able to accomplish the things we did back in 1979.”

While none of the players on the 1979 team ever played for Tom Izzo, they appreciate what he is doing with the program. Both Charles and Kelser said that he always makes them feel welcome whenever they come back.

“It’s good to be home,” said Charles, who is originally from the United States Virgin Islands. “I call this my home also, because it’s my second home. This is where I became a man... I just love being back here at Michigan State.”

Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson also spoke before the game about what the university means to him and how that championship changed his life.

“Going on that run allowed Michigan State basketball to be where it is today,” said Johnson. “Going on that run allowed this little kid from Lansing, Michigan who had dreamed of being on that stage one day in the Green and White to accomplish his goals and dreams.”

“I just wanted to win and say that I was able to accomplish that here at home, at the university that I love,” said Johnson.

Just like this Spartan team lost three straight games, that championship team also faced adversity, losing four in a row.

“We’ll when we changed things around, we had a lineup change — they took me out of the starting lineup,” said Charles with a laugh. “This team, they just have to stay together. They’re losing some tough games, some close games — you got to make free throws — just the little things. They just have to stay at it.”

At halftime, the entire 1979 team was recognized, along with Spartan basketball players from all different generations. Both Johnson and Kelser addressed the crowd.

“This is forty years later, and you see how special being a part of a great unit and everybody pulling for each other and being accountable to each other, this is the result of that,” said Kelser. “And when you do it right, that lives forever, so we’re forever grateful.”

Before thanking everyone, Johnson spoke once more — this time about what has gone on in the past year at the university.

“The green and white, we’ve been through some tough times recently, but we’ve hung together,” said Johnson. “When you come to this university, we support each other and continue to do that, even with me all the way in Los Angeles. So let’s continue to pray for each other, support each other and always remember, we belong to the greatest University in the world — Michigan State University.”

The presence of the 1979 team was not just about them — it had an impact on both Izzo and the current players.

“Magic Johnson is one of the all-time greats,” said Matt McQuaid. “He knows our names and that’s kind of crazy to think about. He actually cares about the program a lot, and that says a lot about this place because there are people that built that — everybody here is just grateful to be here.”

“It was fun to look over and see some, I guess elderly men now, 40 years past their prime, jumping up and down like college kids,” said Izzo. “That makes my day.”