Since the dawn of television, every generation has been able to point to theme songs as a way of not only recalling an idyllic golden age – even if there’s no such thing – but their own memories and dreams. Comedies and dramas may evoke more emotions, but sports aren’t exactly devoid of their own stirring sounds. In fact, they feature some of the most inspiring, emotionally-gripping, and blood-pumping compositions you’d ever hear.
And though this is a strong personal bias speaking, there are millions of people (and plenty of readers) who feel the same way. There is one theme leaps above the rest.
John Tesh's "Roundball Rock" just may be the greatest piece of music sports has ever known.
E. V. E. R.
From 1990-2002, Roundball Rock was coupled with the most effective network bumpers in history (“Knicks. Bulls. Sunday on NBC.” Fin.) It was the opening theme for every pregame show, doubleheader, occasional tripleheader, and most importantly, twelve NBA Finals. When the cameras turned on live inside the arena, its final minute was played along an intense pregame team huddle or shoot-around, with the perfect emphasis on words by Marv Albert or Bob Costas.
Somehow, whether in the opening video or the aforementioned pre-tip off words, Roundball Rock did something few other sports themes have ever done; it parallel parked itself alongside the sounds of the game.
Yet, in for those of us who couldn’t have cared less about the production value of the song, there was a much simpler reason for its beloved status. The NBA on NBC theme was the soundtrack of the Jordan Era. As much as people want to forget some of the grittiness of the 1990s, when hearing that song, they will immediately consider the intensity of those nationally televised matchups.
What makes Roundball Rock such a beloved theme, a decade after its final play for a NBA broadcast on NBC, is that it hasn’t been co-opted for ubiquitous commercials.
“Heavy Action”, composed by the late Johnny Pearson, has defined the NFL since it became the opening theme for Monday Night Football in 1989. Unlike the now-deposed “Are You Ready for Some Football”, which was constantly updated to be irreverent with the times, “Heavy Action” crossed over into pop culture in an unprecedented way. Fans didn’t crow about its sudden infusion into Papa John’s spots or terrible business ads as they do when legendary singers ‘sell out’ for corporate jingles and product placement. Yet, that immediate emotional connection in relation to the game has arguably been dulled because every football-themed commercial seems to play it.
Instead, Roundball Rock is allowed to remain a soundtrack of sorts. It lets many of us who grew up as in the 90s reminisce on the great games we watched - the up-and-unders by Jordan, the entertaining Rodman vs. Malone battles, Shawn Kemp dunking on the entire continent, the Knicks versus… everybody.
Admittedly, John Tesh’s greatest contribution to humanity may be seen (or heard, rather) through a nostalgic point of view. It brings back a time where the union of sports and music didn’t seem so forced. Yet, if anything, it can still get us hyped. If you don’t feel like hitting the court (or the nearest monkey bars) right now after the first ten seconds, you don’t have a pulse.
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Jason is the editor-in-chief here at TSFJ. In addition to a past life as a research analyst in advertising, television and online media, he spent seven seasons as the New York Beacon's beat writer for the New York Giants. Jason has written for Yardbarker, Dime Magazine, Decider, Awful Announcing and The Week. He is also a member of his high school's 4th period gym class floor hockey champions.
He shares more of his perspectives at jasonclinkscales.com.