The late TP has a place in Our Game's history.-- he recorded a version of "One Shining Moment" that CBS-TV played after the NCAA championship games between 1994 and 1999. Artistic excellence is never a cut and dry, case-closed matter, but there are many points in favor of an argument that Teddy Pendergrass' version was the superior one. It's a constrained and masculine, efficient and economic reading of the material. As vocal performances go, it lacks the over-the-top, unbridled Disneyfied consumer-soul that Luther Vandross brought to the song before he suffered the stroke that eventually claimed his life. That version, recorded after "One Shining Moment" had become a permanent institution, turned it into just another "A Whole New World." But either of those two takes trumps the original, glorified studio demo by the original songwriter, with its synthesizer trumpets and painfully outdated guitar solo.
By the time "One Shining Moment" plays each year for a television audience of millions, we've long since suspended broadcasts for the season. So there hasn't been that much of a reason, a news peg, to discuss this strange phenomenon. It's now a part of the fabric of college basketball, as much as anything that's 23 years old can be.
But it's a tradition because the TV tells us it is, in the same way that the radio used to tell us what the hit songs were. And it's a touchy subject, since most of the people who were involved in its creation and subsequent mythology are dead. But "One Shining Moment" is dog turd on top of cat crap on top of a horse apple. It's a steaming three-coiler of a song. It's what's playing in the waiting room to hell, an experience replicable in one's lifetime in the basketball wing at the NCAA Hall of Champions in Indianapolis, where every year's musical Tournament clip show is a big red button press away. And the visitors keep pressing, pressing, pressing the buttons.
"One Shining Moment" is not terrible because it isn't a song about basketball... although that is a key factor. According to the songwriter, the lyrics were inspired by Larry Bird's historic 1979 NCAA Tournament performance. But that doesn't explain why the original first line of the song contained a gun, or why one of the initial lines is you're running for your life -- both odd choices for a game that's played indoors. (The gun goes off/and there you are sounds more like an introduction to a tale of third-degree murder than anything else.)
This is all due to the fact that "One Shining Moment" is a song about American-Style Football. As the story goes, the song sat in a notebook for seven years until it was rescued by CBS for use after Super Bowl 21. (I didn't watch it, I'll have to take Wikipedia's word that it didn't receive airtime.) When it was repurposed for the 1987 NCAA Tournament's final game, the opening line was changed to The ball is tipped. That doesn't make it a song about hoops, though.
"One Shining Moment" doesn't suck because it was the only salable idea David Barrett had, or because he's built an estate on top of enhanced versions and auxiliary merchandise. (It's a song with its own logo.) Isn't not because the lyrics didn't receive that necessary total rewrite back in the late Eighties to make it a basketball song. But its math is all askew. One shining moment? To win the NCAA Tournament currently requires six of them, and at the purported time of the song's creation, doing so took four or five victories. And because this is college, and most student-athletes not named John Wall stay in school for nearly half a decade, most players get the chance to have four shining moments. The core of the recently-graduated Belmont superclass got to experience three of them.
This song isn't a blight on Our Game because it's a small part of the Sports Bubble, insomuch as that it's a wildly overvalued asset -- a tiny bubble unto itself. It's not because it espouses a cheap worldview that life is all buildup to a single pass-or-fail test, and that if you prevail, you are a Hall of Fame Champion forever and will always get laid. According to this false reality, if you fall short in the Big Game of Life, you're a loser. But you tried your best! (Loser!) One shining moment, you knew you were alive/One shining moment, and now you can die.
This song is garbage because it's not for us. "One Shining Moment" has no place in Hoops Nation, on any stereo or jukebox or iPod. This is the anthem of the casual ones. It's for the ADD-addled come-latelies who show up in March to fill out their brackets, pick their disposable underdogs, and leave in April. It's for all those who put down their deposits for Final Four tickets a year ahead of time, long before the team rosters are even set, because they want to put a down payment on that generic college basketball feeling. And this song is indeed for them and their short attention spans -- its inspirational emotions run exactly one centimeter deep, it's a three-minute quick-cut summation of events, and it validates a narrow, selective slice of a sporting experience.
We've gone to great length to drive every single last one of those people away from this website, using all the powerful weapons at our disposal -- long paragraphs, tales of actual loss and real struggle, and the death-missile that seeks and destroys all sportz: complex context. We know just how hard [they] worked, because we're here now, in January, and we can see it for ourselves. You're here too. You were here in November, when this all started anew, again.
George Carlin, who is also dead, once said that he loved the NCAA Tournament because there are "63 losers." For us, while the casual fans are off watching baseball or spring football, April is a month of soul-searing hurt, and regrets, of what-if and could-have. In order to keep going, to come back and try again, requires a great deal of devotion, and there's always the option to leave.
As per a running theme here in this site's sixth season, to love basketball is is a tragic love story, because Our Game is a cold and fickle lover. Basketball will forget you when you're gone, dispose of you when you're old. As current Florida International head coach Isaiah Thomas once said to current Morehead State head coach Donnie Tyndall, as simply and directly as could be, "the game will hurt you." To love this sport requires a superhuman tolerance for heartbreak, because for every team except one, the season ends in a loss and unfulfilled reward. To put it another way, no matter what you do, how much you love her, she won't ever give back to you what you've put in. Every so often it enters your mind... why should you care so much? Get out, Romeo, get out!!
Teddy sang that song too. In 1980, he scored a minor R&B hit with a tune written by Womack & Womack, a team that produced several more hits than the "One Shining Moment" guy put up. It's a song that takes place in the emotional space between a moment of love's loss and the decision whether to come back and chase love again, from the perspective of somebody who's been in the same exact place before. It's a song for this April, and last April, and every April. It is our blues, and it goes like this.