You know the tradition: before the last of the confetti hits the court on Monday night, before the winners of the NCAA tournament have even begun to cut down the nets, the highlight-reel recap rolls, a montage set to, of all songs, a cheeseball bit of ‘80s piffle. It’s gloriously dorky and, as we’ll see later, so sacred that networks get cute with it at their peril.
We wrote about the secret origins of “One Shining Moment” here a few years back, but let’s do this one more time: songwriter David Barrett, entranced with the basketball grace of Larry Bird, penned a treacly, uplifting anthem to his greatness back in 1986. The song got passed up the ladder at CBS Sports, eventually ending up as the backing track to the final moments of each year’s NCAA tournament.
You could sit and watch all 30-plus versions of OSM one after the other — it’d take you about an hour and a half, and you’d be an emotional wreck by the end of it all — but which is the best? In large part, that depends on whether your team’s the one cutting down the nets at the end of the montage. But regardless of whether you’re a bandwagon-riding fan of Duke or your school has never even reached the damn NCAA tournament (not that I'm impatient, oh no), there’s plenty to love about OSM.
Here, for example, is last year’s version:
(Sorry for the ugly reminder, Virginia.) See, that was a solid entrant, but given the lameness of the title game — a total Villanova blowout — OSM ‘18 loses much of its luster. The performance reflects the tournament that came before it.
Watch enough of these things, and you start to see several tropes pop up, year after year: the “ball is tipped” tipoff, the cheerleader who winks at the camera (often on the “blinking of an eye” lyric); the nerdy band members waving “we’re No. 1” fingers even when they’re a 12-seed; the end-of-the-bench goofs whirling towels fast enough to leave the ground; losing players hanging their heads and weeping into those same towels; coaches bellowing at/consoling their teams; winning players howling to the heavens. There’s a sweetness to it all, a warm sameness even as the high-fives and celebrations and dance routines get more complex by the year.
Before we delve deep into history, it’s worth a look back. The last year before the introduction of “One Shining Moment” featured the inspiring, pump-‘em-up, anthemic tones of … Barbra Streisand. Because when you think “college basketball,” you think Babs.
Seriously, watch this atrocity; it’s clear some 65-year-old producer dug into his record collection, pulled out this slice of light-jazz Broadway gunk and said, “Yeah, this is the stuff.”
Man. It’s a wonder they didn’t just nuke the entire tournament from orbit to get rid of that stench.
1987 saw the introduction of “One Shining Moment,” and its chewy synth and buck-naked, primary-colors emotion fit in well with the times. Sure, that 11-note intro is so white it ought to be sporting a quarter-zip at Augusta National, and its cliche-soaked lyrics make no damn sense whatsoever (“The ball is tipped, and there you are /You’re running for your life, you’re a shooting star”). This ought to be the equivalent of one of those old Jazzercise videos that pop up on YouTube, where we all point and laugh and wonder how anyone ever took any of this seriously.
And yet ... everyone does. Every year, we wait and watch as the family album of that year’s tournament plays out to familiar rhythms. We don’t just look forward to it, we expect it. We demand it.
One of the best versions from the song’s earliest era comes from 1991, the year Duke knocked off UNLV in a battle of “good” versus “evil” that, in retrospect, we all probably should’ve re-thought:
Coach K with legitimately black hair! Roy Williams at Kansas! Bobby Knight grousing on the sideline! Lou Carnesecca with a cat-vomit sweater! Short shorts! Whooshing graphics! Pre-NBA Grant Hill and Larry Johnson! Teenagers who look like they’re 35! Man, this one had it all.
How about 1997, with shots of the late, beloved Dean Smith, uniforms baggy enough to cover school buses, and Tim Duncan, looking exactly the same at 20 as he would at 40:
Note how that version is just the song and the song alone; before long, producers will start salting the performance with audio from the announcers, the players and the stadiums.
And then there’s 2008, which featured the combination of a raft of early upsets and, not coincidentally, the first (and only) time all four No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four:
Highlights from this version include Western Kentucky’s game-winning overtime three and Kansas’s miracle win against John Calipari’s [redacted] Tigers. Plus, there are several clips of a deadeyed, upset-leading guard from Davidson; wonder what ever happened to that kid.
And then came 2010. Oh, 2010. You were one hell of a tournament, with last-second upset wins right up until the moment that Gordon Hayward’s final shot rimmed out, giving Duke the championship over upstart Butler. But there was something different about this year’s OSM:
Hey! That’s not Teddy Pendergrass or Luther Vandross! No, that’s Jennifer Hudson, putting a smothering full-court press onto the song. Did we need the shots of Hudson in the studio trying to emote her way into heaven? No, no we did not. This version and style lasted exactly one year and then vanished.
And then there’s 2016, one of the most competitive Final Fours ever. Evolving production styles meant more quick cuts and voiceovers, and more teams included in the production, are all 68 teams represented here? If not, it’s close:
This tourney featured one of the more improbable game winners in tourney history — Northern Iowa’s halfcourt heave to beat Texas — and possibly the finest ending ever, a three-pointer from Villanova’s Kris Jenkins to knock off North Carolina. OSM ’16 captures every bit of that, and if you can watch that — or any of these — without chills, your heart’s made of stone.
And just to take the emotional edge off, let’s present a couple more versions. First, there’s Charles Barkley, lending his, uh, talents to the song to commemorate TNT joining the NCAA tournament broadcast parade:
And then, earlier this year, we saw this brilliant satire honoring the end of a miserable Lakers season with OSM accompaniment:
THEY MADE A ONE SHINING MOMENT FOR THE LAKERS SEASON 💀💀💀pic.twitter.com/8bxq1ew6au
— The Rush (@therushyahoo) March 22, 2019
Come Monday night, we’ll have another entry to the canon. As long as you’re not running for your life, you ought to enjoy it.
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