Marvin Gaye's National Anthem Turns 30


Leave it to Marvin Gaye to turn the National Anthem into a full-fledged love song. On this day 30 years ago, Marvin Gaye delivered his rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" at the 1983 NBA All Star Game, a version that has since gone on to become one of the staple deliveries of its kind mentioned alongside arguably the best ever - Whitney Houston at the 1991 Super Bowl (Carl Lewis' does not). Before praising Marvin, however, let's put 1983 in perspective:

  • Kobe Bryant was four years old (he would turn five in August).
  • The top four candidates for MVP this season - LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul - weren't even born yet.
  • Michael Jordan was a sophomore in college.
  • Half of the NBA was (probably) using cocaine, which in reality is a black eye the league will never truly disassociate from. Just ask the '86 Houston Rockets how much booger sugar screwed them over. Or Michael Ray Richardson. Or David Thompson. Or Roy Tarpley.
  • The first CD player had been created the year before by Sony.
  • Time's reigning Man of the Year wasn't even a man. It was the computer. If only we knew how important that would become.
  • Michael Jackson's Thriller was THE album.
  • Fast Times At Ridgemont High! E.T.!  (Released in 1982, but whatever)

You get the point. A lot has changed since February 13, 1983. Gaye turning our country's most recognizable song into an R&B record, nevertheless, hasn't. Marvin's career is often memorialized for the hit records with Motown and post-Motown, his personal demons which had him flee the country, and his pops being the one to ultimately take his son's life - on April Fool's Day of all days and only hours before what would have been his 45th birthday.

The previous decade wasn't kind to Marvin. His separation and later divorce to Anna Gordy was preceded by fights and infidelity, helping characterize ol' Marvin as the premier troubled, yet grossly talented, artist of his generation. 1978's Here, My Dear - despite low album sales at the time - remains an indelible piece of work for for reasons far beyond just music. Gaye provided the world a rare, in-depth look into the lover-take-all tug-of-war he struggled with over the concept of love, sex and ultimately throughout his marriage to Gordy.

And keep in mind, Gaye's relationship with Janis Hunter helped inspire both his Let's Get It On and I Want You albums. As passionate as the relationship was, their marriage ended largely due to drug abuse and, again, infidelities. Years later, with the growing burdens of the world increasing with each passing high, Marvin fled to Europe stemming from haunting financial issues and a growing addiction to coke. As with most artists with extreme character flaws, the chinks in his armor endeared him to millions.

So let's get this straight. There were drug problems. There were women troubles. There was the God-given talent that often took a hit because of both women and drugs. Look under a rock and find a person who has never heard of Marvin Gaye and explain this story to him or her and they'd probably assume you're speaking of some random small forward who snorted and f*cked his career away in the '80s.

All the drama presented more of a reason to appreciate what happened on this day in 1983. Marvin regained control of his career and 10 days later would take home two Grammys, which through some stroke of fate would be the only two of his career.

Marvin's "National Anthem" was transcendent because he had sang like no one before, or since for that matter. Both inspirational and ironic, Marvin stood in front of a group of men who probably dealt with the same demons he did at one point or another - as well as an entire country which had written him off - and stamped his return.

Defiant, as it was soulful, America loves a comeback story. Marvin's saw him achieve superstar stuats with Motown (and with his brief but iconic run with Tammi Terrell), to sex-filled falls from grace, to clawing his way back to music's Mount Olympus even as those same vices of sex and drugs never truly vacated his life. This evening 30 years ago helped symbolize this.

And though he was never here in the physical sense to help take credit, what happened at The Forum's center court on February 13, 1983, helped save America from total humiliation in the summer of 2008. Mike Krzyzewski's favorite Anthem would spawn into "The Redeem Team's" theme song. Julius Erving would take home MVP honors with 25 points as the East clipped the West 132-123. Magic Johnson's 17 points, 16 assists, five rebounds and seven steals put on for his city despite the loss.*

Still, it's safe to say the true MVP of the '83 ASG was from a guy who never took a dribble.

* - Everyone is up in arms about this year's All Star Weekend and its non-basketball storylines. The most fun of them being if the infamous Maliah Michel will net over $300,000 by her lonesome stripping at Dreams via a 72-hour stretch and the overall influx of groupies - both male and female. I like Maliah's odds. Young basketball players with money to blow, young wanna-be celebrities, young celebrities, local dope boys, women who enjoy strip clubs and rap's strip club aficionado, Drake, are all in town and Maliah's one of the most recognizable strippers in America. It's like the perfect storm for the strip-club industry. Again, I like her odds.**

** - But take this into consideration. Dr. J, Magic Johnson and Marvin Gaye walk into an All Star Game after-party. In Los Angeles. In the '80s. Imagine being at this hypothetical party and those three walk in as you're talking to a young lady. There's no way to compete with that. Your best bet is to order a double shot of Henny, introduce her to them and pray Julius/Magic/Marvin toss you some trickle down ass. This is the "Big Three" that's never remembered in history. And they should. Even if I made this entire footnote up.

7 Replies to “Marvin Gaye's National Anthem Turns 30”

  1. This right here is brilliant. The sports landscape is what it is right now (to me, it's boring), but to have you weave this subject and sports in this particular fashion is inspiring and energizing. Thanks for penning this. It's right on time.

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