By Eric Greenberg
As members of the NCAA champion Duke men’s basketball team cut down the nets in Indianapolis last April, somebody in a CBS Sports control room began cuing up the network’s annual musical highlight montage for the 29th and quite possibly final time. With a change in broadcast rights looming, “One Shining Moment” – the inspiring and wonderfully campy sports ballad laid brilliantly over the highs, lows and humanity of March Madness – might have been playing its own swan song.
First packaged with NCAA tournament highlights in 1987, “One Shining Moment” is the work of Michigan singer/songwriter David Barrett, who also performed the song’s original version. “I was playing at a folk club in East Lansing, Michigan,” Barrett told The Throwback’s predecessor Just My Show in 2006. “I had this idea while late at night after playing the gig trying to explain to a beautiful waitress what was so great about Larry Bird. And she was not interested, but it gave me an idea. And then the next day I was waiting for a friend of mine to show up for lunch and he showed up late. And I wrote the lyrics on a napkin, and went home and banged it out in 20 minutes.” According to Barrett’s official website, a sportswriter friend gave a recording of the song to CBS without his knowledge, prompting a life changing phone call from the network. The song has aired at the conclusion of the tournament’s championship game every year since.
The montage has undergone multiple changes since its inception, with Barrett’s vocals giving way to recordings by Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross and Jennifer Hudson and prominent visual effects occasionally challenging the purity of earlier incarnations. The song’s message of courage and perseverance has remained constant though, bringing criticism from those who call it corny and occasional tears from those swept up in the emotional roller coaster that is the NCAA tournament.
Uncertainty over the song’s future began in 2010 when the NCAA brokered a deal with both CBS and Turner Broadcasting, allowing the latter’s family of cable networks to air a portion of tournament games, including the tournament final, at a future date to be determined. That day – this Monday – will be the first time the championship game airs on TBS. “One Shining Moment,” potential collateral damage under the arrangement, would have otherwise aired on CBS for the 30th consecutive year.
Asked about a hypothetical change in broadcast rights back in 2006, Barrett told Just My Show that he maintains ownership of the song, signaling that a jump to another network might be plausible. “My hope is that it will be associated with the NCAA’s final four until you and I are mere memories,” he said at the time. For that to happen though, Turner would have to elect to use a song that’s universally associated with another television entity – a proposition that didn’t work out well for John Tesh’s instrumental “Roundball Rock,” which was cast aside when ABC took over NBA broadcast rights from NBC in 2002. The CBS/Turner relationship is an unusual one though with the two broadcasters working together to divide coverage responsibilities in the tournament’s early rounds, and starting this year, enacting an alternating schedule for the rights to the championship game.
“I wasn’t sure how this would be handled,” Barrett told The Throwback last week. “But as it turns out, both CBS and Turner believe in the song.”
“We had a discussion with Turner about it and it was decided that’s something fans have become used to,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus told USA Today’s For The Win blog. “And it would be a good and appropriate way to finish off the tournament as we have for the last 30 years.”
“Obviously I’m grateful to CBS for their belief in my song over the years,” Barrett told The Throwback. “Turner had some fun with it with Sir Charles, which I thoroughly enjoyed,” he added, referring to Charles Barkley’s cringe worthy performance of “One Shining Moment” in a recent TBS promo. The voice that will be heard over Monday night’s montage is a mystery though, with Turner announcing only that it will be sung by a new performer. Barrett, meanwhile, is unsure whether the instrumental prelude “Golden Street,” which he also composed, will be played while the championship team cuts down the nets as was frequently the case on CBS.
The current broadcast partnership between the NCAA, CBS and Turner extends through 2024, making it likely that “One Shining Moment” will continue to make grown men choke up for years to come.
“As any songwriter will tell you,” says Barrett. “Having a song that lasts and is meaningful to an audience is what you dream of. It means a great deal to me that this song with its magic dust has endured this way.”