This post is inspired by this list by Deadspin.
I think everyone can agree that John Tesh’s “Roundball Rock” is the greatest sports television theme of all time. The NBA on NBC is synonymous for this theme. It gives everyone the warm fuzzies who was privileged to watch the NBA during that time period.
The praise for this song is well-deserved. It’s catchy, it’s simple but it’s so powerful. It’s not so loud and in your face but it pumps up any fan of the game.
But why do we love this song so much? Is it just because it was the theme during a period where we got to see Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller and numerous other NBA stars in their prime? Or is it because of something else?
The way I see it, at least for me, it had everything to do with the presentation. And we can pinpoint that right to Bob Costas and Marv Albert.
For me, the great part about watching the NBA on NBC, especially during the playoffs, was the introduction. But it was not just the theme song, but it was the story before each game.
Every game had a storyline. Whether it was a continuing rivalry between the Knicks and Bulls or a recap of Reggie Miller’s heroics, it was how the game was presented to me. In that presentation, it was either narrated by Albert or Costas. They built up the game, gave it a hype like no other. Even a mere regular season matchup still had something on the line. They told us that.
It was with their storytelling, unique for every game, did the hype and anticipation grow. It was with that, did they then introduced us to the the theme song.
But even before the theme, it was the laser etching of the NBC logo gave us the climax of the story.
Every time — and I mean, every time — they started that laser etching of the logo, I followed the lights. I waited for the logo to be complete and filled with color. That was the perfect denouement of the narrative introduction before we dove right into the game.
Then the theme would play. Oh how wonderful the theme was.
That was enough. That small narrative intro over the bridge of the song set the table for the viewers. We were going to witness something great.
NBC made a great choice in selecting this theme for their broadcasts. Nothing overbearing or complicated. The song was simple and easy to hum. It wasn’t loud, which gave the narrator a good tone to introduce the game. And following that, the broadcast team of Marv Albert or Bob Costas, along with their broadcast partners, would show footage of the players on the court warming up in the setting of a sellout, raucous crowd.
They would talk over the highlights, still with the theme playing in the back, bringing us a harmonious unison of NBA players, broadcast guidance and the perfect theme. But the impact would not have been there had it not been for Costas or Albert welcoming us with their introduction narrative. And the staying power doesn’t exist if they don’t continue on with the song following the start of the theme.
Major props to NBC’s production crew for envisioning this type of introduction to their NBA broadcasts.
In a way, the theme is great, or in a sense legendary, because it has a great collection of memories tied to it. But those memories don’t stick with us without the storytelling of the broadcast team. The hype and build of the game makes the NBA on NBC so memorable. Great games, great theme and great memories. All there for us and for every game, it started with the narrative. Without it, we may not be praising “Roundball Rock” like we do today.
Maybe I am the only one that sees it this way, that the memories and legend of this theme are tied with these two broadcasters. I don’t know if the theme holds that much value without them.
With what I’ve just said, watch this intro from the 1999 NBA Finals and see that the theme song’s impact is made because of the story that was built by the narrative.