Michigan State pulled out an exciting victory against Duke on Sunday to earn a spot in the Final Four. Now that MSU has a chance to win another championship, we take a look back at the first championship for the school, one that would shape the perception of Spartan basketball for years to come.
It featured a player that many would quickly come to know- a young point guard by the name of Earvin Johnson, better known as “Magic”. While he has remained firmly in the public eye, as is befitting a man who earned the nickname Magic, here’s where both he and the rest of the key figures from Michigan State’s 1979 championship team are today.
Coach Jud Heathcote
Heathcote was the man at the helm of that year’s championship team and helped establish Michigan State as a consistent basketball program during his 19 years as head coach. That isn’t even to mention the fact that in 1981 he hired an assistant named Tom Izzo who would eventually succeed him. Heathcote retired in 1994, and passed away in August 2017 at the age of 90.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson
Magic Johnson was the star of Michigan State’s first national championship, and would embark upon quite the journey after declaring for the NBA draft. Johnson would be drafted by the Lakers first overall, win five championships and three MVPs over the course of his career, and become a spokesperson for people with HIV all over the world after contracting the disease in the early 1990s. Johnson is now in his second season as president of basketball operations for the Lakers, and was part of the team that convinced LeBron James to join LA.
Kelser was Johnson’s No. 2 guy, the main beneficiary of the point guard’s perfectly placed passes, and averaged a team-high 18 points per game during the championship season. He would get drafted by the Detroit Pistons, and would play for three other NBA teams before retiring in 1986. Since then, he’s worked as a commentator in the Detroit area, covering over 1,700 basketball games for the NBA, WNBA, NCAA, and the Michigan High School Basketball Association. Currently, Kelser is the lead analyst for Pistons basketball on Fox Sports Detroit.
Vincent was a talented scorer who stayed at MSU for two years after winning the title before getting drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1981. Vincent would have a steady nine-year career in the NBA, retiring in 1990. Unfortunately, that’s where Vincent’s story of success ends; in 2010, he pled guilty to federal fraud and tax charges after his business was found to have stolen $2 million from 20,000 people across the country. He was released in 2016, and has spent the years since writing and selling his own books (according to his website).
Brkovich had the quietest post-playing career out of his teammates. After becoming the first Canadian basketball player to start in an NCAA Championship game, he stayed at MSU for two seasons after the championship, and was the team’s co-captain in 1980. He was drafted in the eighth round of the 1981 draft by the Bucks, but never ended up playing in the NBA. Brkovich moved back to his hometown of Windsor, where he was elected to the Winsor-Essex County Sports Hall of Fame in 1999. Brkovich still resides in Windsor, where he works in real estate, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Donnelly may have been the lowest-profile recruit of all his teammates, but he ended up being the most important during that championship game, going 5-for-5 and providing much-needed scoring. Donnelly wasn’t drafted following his career in Lansing, and ended up moving to Texas to found the successful Donnelly Hamco business supply company with his brother and father, where he remains today.