The song is the greatest college basketball tradition.
There’s one thing I’ll never forget about the 2014 Final Four. After the confetti rained and the nets got cut, UConn’s entire team gathered in a corner of the court to crane their necks up at the giant screen at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. They were watching this:
That montage is set to the song “One Shining Moment,” and it’s how every college basketball season has closed since 1987.
The NCAA tournament is one of the most unique events on the American sports calendar. It features three weeks of high drama, passion, and twists and turns. In just over three minutes, CBS producers pack in a synopsis of March Madness, and cap it off with a tribute to that season’s national champion.
The first one aired in 1987.
The song was created by a composer named David Barrett, who said he knew he had college basketball’s anthem as soon as he wrote it in the fall of 1986. But it was almost a different sport’s soundtrack. Barrett said CBS had designs on debuting “One Shining Moment” after Super Bowl 21, but it didn’t make air that night.
Instead it was used after Indiana won the national title a few months later.
And after North Carolina won the national championship game over Gonzaga, we made our own version to commemorate the achievement.
There’s a pretty common beat to the montage.
It lends a familiarity to things as well. The video usually starts with cheerleaders, mascots, and fans to show the pageantry of the tournament in the opening refrain, before getting to the players and moments themselves. There are always dunks and buzzer-beaters and whatever noteworthy clip went viral during the tournament (think something like a player dancing).
It builds to the end where moments from the Final Four are featured, typically with a clip of CBS play-by-play man Jim Nantz setting the scene before the semifinals, and then whatever it is he said when the buzzer sounded and the champion is crowned.
Throughout the years, the song has changed as has the singer.
When you watch One Shining Moments throughout the 1990s, you’ll notice that they’re about 40 seconds shorter than the current version. It’s because CBS was using an abridged version of the song. In 2000, the fuller version of the song debuted on the telecast and the network hasn’t looked back.
From 1987-1993, Barrett sung the montage before R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass took over from 1994-1999.
Barrett returned to voice the montage from 2000-2003. But in 2003, the only man truly fit to sing the song took up the mantel. Luther Vandross’s velvety smooth voice graced our televisions that year and we’re all much better for it (pay no mind to the 2010 version with Jennifer Hudson, it never happened as far as I’m concerned).
On an alternate feed of the 2016 championship game, a “One Shining Moment” tailored to Villanova sung by Ne-Yo aired as well. Charles Barkley voiced a version to promo TBS’s airing of the national championship for the first time, but parental discretion is advised before viewing.
Vandross’s version remains the most indelible because it’s the best. No matter what the powers that be do to change things up, his version reigns supreme. It’s the one whoever wins the title tonight will gather at one end of the court — together — to watch as champions.