The NCAA Tournament is the greatest three weeks in sports. It’s a rollercoaster ride, but unlike many coasters, the big dance has no buildup. It’s more of a zero to 60 in three seconds ride, one that doesn’t come to a halting stop until the very end.
And just like a rollercoaster, you’re sad when the NCAA Tournament is over. You wished you savored it more, that there was still one more thrilling game left. When this happens on a rollercoaster, you just ride it again (if there isn’t a long line). But after the NCAA Tournament ends, you wait for “One Shining Moment.”
The song, which debuted in 1987, is almost synonymous with the Big Dance itself. In a 2013 Buzzfeed article, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski called it “the national anthem of college basketball.” The song plays in the arena and on televisions around the globe after the end of the national championship. From the passionate fan bases, the heartbreaking losses, and the joy of winning a title, “One Shining Moment” has it all.
The song matches March Madness so perfectly, but originally wasn’t even supposed to be used for basketball. According to Barrett’s website, he wrote the song on a napkin in 15 minutes while waiting for a friend at a restaurant. He then told his old high school friend HBO reporter (then Sports Illustrated reporter) Armen Keteyian about the song.
According to Buzzfeed, Keteyian told Barrett to send the song to him if he ever recorded it, which Barrett did. Keteyian then had some local musicians record the song with Barrett providing vocals. He dropped it off at CBS’s office and the next day got a call Bob Tassie, who was involved with marketing at CBS and loved it. Barrett then received a call from CBS Sports creative director Doug Towey, who planned to use “One Shining Moment” at that year’s Super Bowl. But those plans were scrapped, and since the song was originally written about basketball, Towey decided they would use it at after the national championship game.
And since then, the song has been a staple of the NCAA Tournament. It’s a way to remember all the great moments that fans may have forgotten over the last three weeks. Every time I hear the final “one shining moment” I still get chills. It’s a moment every player will remember for the rest of their lives, and the song captures it perfectly.
Now while the NCAA Tournament has become increasingly overhyped by bubble watches and bracketologists, “One Shining Moment” remains mostly the same. After watching every single version, I can say there’s not much that has changed between the first version in 1987 and the most recent in 2015.
The song has gone through some small changes over the years, starting with a remake from R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass in 1994. His singing may not be as good as Barrett, whose version was played from 1987-1993, but Pendergrass’s version is solid.
In 2000, CBS tried to make the video flashier, with the ball looking like a shooting star on three-pointers and dunks. Barrett rerecorded the song, although it was not as good as his original rendition. They also added a new verse, the one that is now associated with players holding back tears in the waning moments of a crushing defeat. But I found the graphics added to the ball to be more annoying. The video already celebrates athletes making great plays, and doesn’t need anything added to make them stand out.
Thankfully, CBS ditched the graphics in 2003, and replaced Barrett with Luther Vandross. Vandross provides the best version of the song, as his voice matches the climax of each verse almost perfectly. This is the best rendition of Barrett’s song, as evidenced by the criticism bestowed upon the 2010 version that featured Jennifer Hudson.
In that version, Hudson seemed to be featured as much as the players themselves. Although she killed it, no one watches that video to see someone sing, they watch it for the highlights. Hudson’s voice also seemed too powerful for the song, which is more about the highlights than the way you sing it. What makes Vandross’s rendition so great is that he doesn’t distract you from the visuals. After all the backlash, CBS went back to Vandross in 2011, and will continue to use his version for the foreseeable future.
March Madness is mostly about the games, but it’s not completely over until the final frame of “One Shining Moment.”