The Sound of the NBA Golden Era

Breaking down why John Tesh’s “Roundball Rock” is the greatest sports theme of all time.

 By Jarrod Castillo Staff Writer

Graphic by Francisco Valladares/Athletics Editor

Millennials born in the 1990s had a myriad of shows that featured great theme songs: “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Full House,” “Friends” and of course, “The Simpsons.”

One theme that should be included on that list is perhaps one of the greatest, if not the greatest, sports theme song of all time, “Roundball Rock.”

Considered to be John Tesh’s magnum opus, “Roundball Rock” defined basketball for fans who grew up watching the NBA on NBC. As such, the theme song was played a staggering 12,000 times between 1990 and 2002, a testament to how great the song is.

Further cementing its status is the fact that numerous websites, including Barstool Sports, Complex.com, Deadspin, FootballScoop, For The Win! and A.Side, all have “Roundball Rock” as the number one best sports theme song of all time. Meanwhile, Bleacher Report has “Roundball Rock” as the second greatest and Total Pro Sports has it at fifth.

So how did what is arguably the greatest sports theme of all time come to fruition?

Tesh says the idea came to him while he was in Europe covering the Tour de France.

“I was trying to write a sports theme and I did not have a piano in the hotel where I was staying,” Tesh said. “So I did, probably, what many of you have done, faced with a similar situation. I called my answering machine at home and I left a message for myself.”

The theme begins with a loud hit, of sorts, on a synthesizer, followed by a crescendo of horns. Then come the drums and another hit from the synthesizer.

What follows after the first three seconds is pure majesty; the theme is simply indescribable. For all the cowbell fans out there, there is a healthy dose of the instrument, so there’s no need for a prescription of more cowbell here.

“Roundball Rock” has also become synonymous with ‘90s basketball, and the fact that the theme was played during Michael Jordan’s ascension to becoming the greatest basketball player of all time, further cements its place in history.

Almost to the degree of Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, the Los Angeles Lakers with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal also helped catapult the league's popularity in that era, and made the tune perfect for, arguably, the Golden Era of the NBA.

Altogether, this helped “Roundball Rock” become the standard of not just NBA themes, but sports themes as a whole. Nevertheless, ABC chose not to retain the song when Tesh offered them the rights to it, electing to go a different direction when the NBA signed a deal with The Walt Disney Company and Turner Sports to broadcast games on ABC, ESPN and TNT.

The networks chose to create their own themes for NBA games instead of using “Roundball Rock.” Although the networks now have their own themes, NBC still pays tribute to “Roundball Rock” whenever they broadcast a basketball game, regardless if it’s an NBA game or the Olympics.

During the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the “Redeem Team,” highlighted by Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, led the United States to its first basketball gold medal since the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. NBC used the theme during commercial bumpers and starting lineup announcements as a precursor for the upcoming beatdown that was about to be bestowed onto the opponents.

The theme was used again, albeit less, in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro when USA Basketball went up against other teams of the world.

“Roundball Rock”  is so recognizable that during Devonta Freeman’s “free throw” touchdown celebration during the 2017 NFL season, NBC elected to play the theme on replay, garnering chuckles from the broadcasting crew. So synonymous is “Roundball Rock” with basketball, and sports in general, that even fans and commentators of other sports instantly recognize the theme.

Fans who were watching the game were immediately brought back to memories of the ‘90s and took to Twitter to express their gratitude with NBC’s song choice.

“Oh my god excellent use of roundball rock,” user @ArifHassanNFL said.

“Holy flashback. I was ready for MJ to carve up the Knicks at MSG with that NBA on NBC music drop” user @BarstoolBigCat said.

Even people that don’t regularly watch basketball or haven’t watched basketball in a number of years know of it.

A YouTube video titled “NBA on NBC Theme” and featuring “Roundball Rock” has amassed over 1.5 million views, showing the theme’s longevity and the pull the theme still has after all this time.

Even though millennials get a lot of hate and blame for things nowadays, at least they can hang their hat on the fact that they grew up listening to the greatest sports theme of all time: “Roundball Rock.”