The annual end to college basketball always concludes with a musical moment — “One Shining Moment,” specifically of course.
The schmaltzy song, the idea of which was conceived on a pair of napkins in 1986 in East Lansing, Michigan, has lovingly become college hoops’ signature seasonal sign-off. It was written by a man named David Barrett. This year serves as the 30-year anniversary of its conception.
The genesis of the song is my favorite detail about it: Barrett came up with the idea of “One Shining Moment” during an hour of nervousness. He drummed up the idea while trying to hit it off with a waitress after playing a bar gig. He failed, but in the end, he didn’t. The man wound up writing one of the preeminent sports songs of all time. Something of an ironic twist: The player who happened to be on TV that night wasn’t a college star, but Larry Bird during his Boston Celtics prime.
This year, Turner Sports will, for the first time, in partnership with CBS, televise the Final Four and national championship game. “One Shining Moment” isn’t going away — but expect a change. The beloved Luther Vandross version is going on the shelf for the time being. Which artist or group is covering it for 2016? That’s still confidential, but obviously we’ll find out any day now. (I’m hoping for one of three possibilities: Prince, Steely Dan, or Prince.) Though so many people are attached to Vandross’ cover, the idea of changing up the artist is not new; it’s kind of like Doctor Who in that we get a new one every so often.
Barrett’s original was CBS’s song of choice from its first use in 1987 up through 1993, when UNC beat Michigan in the title game. From 1994-1999, Teddy Pendergrass’ cover became the standard. For three more tournaments, from 2000-02, Barrett’s was used again, and then Vandross was the artist of choice for every year from 2003-2015, with the exception of 2010, when Jennifer Hudson was used for one year only.
Is it a great song? No, I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s something on the level of Dylan, Springsteen or Marley. But hearing “One Shining Moment” … it’s like Christmas music. You wouldn’t want to listen to it most of the year, but for one specific spot on the calendar, the music sounds just right.
Check out the first version here. Notice the graphics package, the short shorts, Jerry Tarkanian and his towel, Jim Boeheim getting doused (imagine if that happened today), Bob Knight punching a phone, a young Rick Pitino. This was 29 years ago, but watching it, it seems twice as long since.
And if you’re one of those dead-on-the-inside types who refuses to acknowledge how the song has rightfully garnered sentimental and symbolic value, then I can’t help you. Some things just work as by way of happy accident, like the homemade “Beware the Phog” sign in Allen Fieldhouse, which was originally put together with shower curtains, or how so many schools stay to sing the alma mater, win or lose after a game. It’s hokey but it fits. The theme song to The Masters works similarly, what with that tinkly piano and descending chord structure. You ever heard the full thing? Yeah, just wait for the lyrics to kick in.
“One Shining Moment” is a reliable nostalgia trip that works on two fronts: It reminds you of tournaments past while recapping three weekends’ worth of games from the Big Dance that just concluded. And to be in the building and watch the winning team stand on a podium, necks craned at the videoboard and watching the video — it’s awesome. About as pure and heartfelt as a billion-dollar so-called amateur sport can get.
One night every April, yeah, it works. It’s fitting to lay college hoops to sleep every spring on a bed of music.