Review Summary: “Roundball Rock,” the infectious theme to NBC's coverage of the NBA Playoffs from 1990 to 2002, stands as a testament to the power of music to inspire men to play sports at the highest level.
John Tesh – known largely for his role as the host of Entertainment Tonight
from the late ’80s to the mid-90’s – was, unbeknownst to many, also the genius behind a number of hit sports themes during this time. A Juilliard-trained pianist, Tesh has additionally been an occasional composer of Christian inspirational music. For a time, his music played on some of the major sports programs of the era, from the NBA on NBC
to NBC’s NFL Live!
. Despite this, Tesh went virtually uncredited for his work on these songs until the release of his 1997 compilation Victory: The Sports Collection
For the most part, the songs on this collection are extremely mediocre. Even “Gridiron Dreams,” the soundtrack to NFL Live!
throughout its 1990 season, is ultimately rather run-of-the-mill. But while most of the songs on Victory
are forgettable, one of them lives in immortality. “Roundball Rock,” the infectious theme to the NBA on NBC
from 1990 to 2002, stands as a testament to the power of music to inspire men to play sports at the highest level. Some of the greatest athletes to ever play the game of basketball psyched themselves out while listening to this masterpiece, as finely-crafted as it is memorable. Staring into the mirror before the game, clenching their fists as they think about every missed free throw, every open look they blew, every shot they had blocked, countless playoff warriors prepared for battle. Looking blankly off into space, gathering the will to crush their opponents, this is where great players found the raw, unadulterated hatred to become champions
has far too many weak to mediocre songs to be given a high rating. However, “Roundball Rock” serves by itself as the album’s saving grace. On its strength alone is the album pushed up from a 2 to a 3. And so, while a reviewer is usually best advised to treat albums holistically, in the present case it seems most fitting to dedicate the rest of review to Tesh’s magnum opus
, “Roundball Rock.”
A sudden crash. The flare of trumpets in the distance. All at once they are joined by strings, drums, a shi
tty synthesized slap bass, and lightly-distorted guitar in the background, driving forward in a triumphant rhythm. The silhouette of Jerry West dribbling the basketball slides across the screen in terrible early 3-D graphics, grafted onto a gray diamond to the back. The song pounds on, unrelenting. Suddenly it shifts into a breakdown, as the distorted guitar slides into the squeal of an artificial harmonic. Marv Albert’s reassuring voice comes over the music as the cityscape of the home team appears on the screen, with an overhead shot of the arena. Soon Albert’s voice is met with the image of his toupeed head, as he sets the stage and prepares for the announcement of the starting lineups.
May 7th, 1995 – 15 years ago today. Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The Pacers, though they have possession, trail the Knicks 99-105 in Madison Square Garden with 18.7 seconds to go. The ball is inbounded to Reggie Miller, who plants his pivot foot, drags his other foot back behind the three-point line, and buries a triple with a man in his face. The Knicks, frantically trying to avoid a foul and run out the time, desperately throw in the ball. Its intended target slips, and the ball lands in the hands of none other than Miller again. With remarkable presence of mind, he backpedals behind the three-point line while dribbling and drains another three. “TIE GAME!”
Inexplicably, the Pacers foul John Starks before the ball is even in play again. Starks, usually a clutch player, misses both free throw attempts. After Ewing expectedly chokes on the rebound, bricking an open jumper only seven feet from the rim, Indiana recovers as Miller is fouled yet again. Pat Riley looks on in disbelief. Assistant coach Jeff van Gundy yells some crazy high-pitched shi
t in his Brooklyn accent.
Reggie hits both free throws to put the Pacers ahead 107-105. He has just scored eight points in under nine seconds of play. This will be the score the game ends on, as Miller rushes to taunt Spike Lee on the sidelines.
Almost one year earlier. The Eastern Conference Finals, Game 1. It’s the Pacers and the Knicks again. Miller, who has just scored 10 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, looks over to Spike Lee and puts his hands around his own throat, giving him the “choke” sign. Spike Lee is outraged as his Knicks are defeated once again.
The 2000 Western Conference Finals, Game 7. The Portland Trail Blazers, led by a veteran Scottie Pippen and a young Rasheed Wallace, lead the Los Angeles Lakers by fifteen points going into the fourth. The Blazers hit a dry spell at the most inopportune time, however, scoring only eight points in the first ten minutes of the quarter. The Lakers, who had suffered defeats their past three seasons to Utah (twice) and the Spurs (once), slowly chipped away at the lead. Under the guidance of their new coach, Phil Jackson, Shaq and Kobe help bring the team to a one point advantage with only two minutes remaining. Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry hits clutch threes along the way, as always.
With less than two minutes left, Kobe dribbles the ball up the court. Aggressive as always, Bryant crosses Pippen driving into the lane. Pippen, one of the greatest perimeter defenders of all time, uncharacteristically bites on the fake as Kobe lobs the ball up to Shaq. The monstrous O’Neal, looking like a humongous slimey baby with all the hair on his face and head shaved, rises into the air to slam the ball in.
“Kobe drives into the lane…dishes the ball to Shaq…Shaq hammers it home with a right hand!”
The 1991 NBA Finals. Michael Jordan leaps from almost the foul line, going in for a powerful right-handed dunk. Anticipating a block from a rookie Vlade Divac, Jordan switches hands in midair, going to a left-handed layup at the last moment. Magic Johnson just stands there looking stunned.
Marv Albert leaps up from his chair, a blood vessel bursting in his eye as he screams, “A SPECTACULAR MOVE BY MICHAEL…JORDAN…”
1998, the so-called “Last Dance.” An aging Bulls team has forged a path through the playoffs, relying on willpower and veteran savvy and battling injuries as they go. There is great anxiety about the future of the team, with uncertainties surrounding the Bulls’ management and the threat of Jerry Reinsdorf splitting up the dynasty. Phil Jackson rambles on with his typical vagueness and hateful psychobabble, God bless him.
Meanwhile, the great Marv Albert is out, having been accused of rape. Though the charges are eventually dismissed, it comes out during the proceedings that he enjoys biting women’s asscheeks. Albert, humiliated, is replaced by the youthful Bob Costas, who is now constantly eulogizing the careers of Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and their time together on the Bulls with every insignificant action they perform.
Bob Costas, speaking with his typical overdramatic flair:
“That may be…the last time…that we ever see Scottie Pippen steal the ball and pull up for a three.”
“That may be…the last time…that we ever see Michael Jordan berating Steve Kerr on the sidelines for not passing him the ball.”
“That may be…the last time…that we ever see Michael Jordan slap Dennis Rodman on the as
s after tearing down a sick rebound and calling for time as he plunges out of bounds.”
The 1995 Western Conference Finals. Spurs vs. Rockets, an all-Texas battle between two of the greatest big men of the era, David “the Admiral” Robinson and Hakeem “the Dream” Olajuwon. Robinson, who has just received the Season MVP trophy prior to the start of the series, leads a heavily-favored Spurs team against Hakeem’s rockets. However, Olajuwon puts on a clinic, dominating Robinson on every level. Robinson will have to wait four more years before the arrival of a savior in the form of Tim Duncan.
Four years later, 1998-99 NBA Finals. Spurs vs. Knicks, Game 5. Fresh off of an impressive playoff showing, sweeping the Blazers and the Lakers, the Spurs look to silence their critics by winning their first NBA championship. With Patrick Ewing's kneecaps blown out after years of chronic injury, the Spurs look to take advantage of their major size advantage in the post.
Down by one point in the last minute of the game, Avery Johnson sucks in an entire tank of helium and starts yelling bizarre shi
t in his weird-ass voice. Eliot drives to the hoop and kicks it out to Johnson in the closing seconds. He hits the three-pointer and Spurs take the lead. With a defensive stop on the other end, the Spurs win their first title.
Excerpts from Michael Jordan's 1998 retirement speech:
: Michael, which you were more proud of, your athletic skills or the mental skills that you brought to the game, and which was more difficult to keep up"
: Well, I came in here with the physical skills. To some degree I was born with the appetite to enhance it as I got older and as I played the game, but the mental skill came with the education of the game that I learned either from Coach Smith before I got here or I learned in the course of the coaching staffs that I have been endeared with, Tex Winter probably being the most, because he was probably the one that would criticize my game more than anybody. To me that's a plus, that's a driving force for me. The mental part is hard because you have to really learn, taking everything that you've learned over a period of time, and apply that to your game and tie that into the physical aspect of your game and make the complete basketball player that you try to become. So physically, it's a little bit easier, but the mental part is the hardest part, and I think that's the part that separates the good players from the great players."
: It was difficult, because you're giving up something that you truly, truly love. My love for the game is very strong. It's hard to give up that love. For the sake of the mental challenges that Michael Jordan needs to drive himself to be the best basketball player that he can be, I don't want to fool myself going into a situation knowing that I'm not 100 percent challenged mentally. Physically I feel fine, with the unfortunate thing with my finger. But other than that, I'm fine. But mentally, I just felt like I didn't have the challenges in front of me."
: There's never going to be another Michael Jordan. There's never going to be another Dr. J. I knew that. There's never going to be another Elgin Baylor. I knew that. So the kids of tomorrow, there's never going to be another Michael Jordan. You can be a Grant HIll, you can be Anfernee Hardaway, you can be Kobe Bryant but Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan. And you may pick bits and pieces of his game or his personality, and somehow correlate it to yours, but either way you have to evolve to be the person that you are. Sure, you're going to use comparisons as your standard of measurement, yes, it happens. But it's different circumstances that you have to deal with in each era.
I didn't have the same things facing me as Dr. J had in his era. And I'm pretty sure Kobe and some of the guys who're coming behind me is not going to have the same, so they have to evolve to be the players that they are and they're going to be, with maybe my influences and other influences, but you're right. There's not going to be another Michael Jordan and I wouldn't advise the other guys to try to be that or do that."
1990 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 7. Bulls at Pistons. Enraged by the extreme physicality of the Pistons' "Jordan Rules" and the Bad Boys' generally dirty play, Jordan decides to cut to the basket along the baseline, attacking the rim with reckless abandon. He breezes past two defenders and meets John Salley in the air. Salley, helpless to stop the oncoming Jordan, hacks at MJ's face in desperation. But it's too late. Jordan takes the hit to the face and slams the ball through nonetheless. "Count it, and the foul!"
Despite Jordan's individual heroics, the Bulls come up short against their old foes. This is the last year that Michael Jordan's Bulls team will lose to the Pistons. Jordan's bitterness and frustration will drive him to go on an eight-year rampage through the NBA, claiming six titles broken up only by a year-and-a-half retirement and one playoff disappointment in 1995.
First Round of the 1994 Playoffs. The Phoenix Suns vs. the Golden State Warriors, Game 3. Charles Barkley, the year following his disappointing loss the Michael Jordan's Bulls in the finals, prepares to lead his team on another post-season push. Scoring a mind-blowing 27 points in the first quarter alone, Barkley finishes with a total of 56 points on the night, helping his team achieve an easy victory over their weaker opponents.
1996 Western Conference Finals. Two of the greatest point guard-power forward tandems in the history of the game, Gary "the Glove" Payton and Shawn "the Reignman" Kemp against John "Short-Shorts" Stockton and Karl "the Mailman" Malone. Neither team has ever been to the NBA finals.
Game 2. Trailing at home with 10:44 to go in the fourth quarter, Kemp enters the game with five fouls. Leading a surge going down the stretch, the game is tied at 87. Reading a pick and roll, Kemp comes up with a huge steal and dribbles it back down the court. The Sonics set up their offense, with the court-general Gary Payton handling the ball. Suddenly Payton lobs the ball toward the basket as Kemp cuts in and brings in down in a sick oop. The Sonics go on to win in a close seven game series. They will lose to the Bulls in the finals that same year.
Shawn Kemp plays another couple decent seasons before becoming a cocaine addict and siring scores of illegitimate children to different women. Payton remains one of the league's premier point guards and is shuffled back and forth between championship contenders before finally winning an NBA title in 2006 with the Miami Heat.
2002 Western Conference Finals. A young and extremely dangerous Sacramento King team has established a 2-1 game advantage over their old rivals, the Lakers. After the first quarter in Los Angeles, the Kings lead by twenty points. Just as they did against the Blazers two years earlier, however, the Lakers battle back, behind only two points with 11.8 seconds remaining. Kobe again drives into the lane, looking to tie it with a layup or at least draw the foul.
I defer to Marv Albert’s call (Albert had by this point been redeemed): “We’re down to seven seconds…Bryant, putting the moves on Christie…rebound O’Neal…coming up a little bit short…Robert Horry…for the win…YEESSSSSSSSSS!”
The crowd explodes, Albert tears off his wig and starts frantically masturbating, as Robert Horry triumphantly side-gallops, with his hands behind his back as the fans rush the court.
The Kings will go on to get robbed in a controversial Game 6 that was probably fixed by the officials.
This is the final year that Tesh's "Roundball Rock" will play during the playoffs, as coverage of the NBA post-season shifts to ABC and its proxy, TNT, the next year.
1998 Finals, again. Game 6, with the Bulls leading the series 3-2. Chicago is down 85-84 with sixteen seconds to go. Jordan steals the ball from Malone, and dribbles up the court, going one-on-one against Russell from the perimeter.
“Jordan…Jordan, a drive…hangs…fires…SCORESSS! HE SCORES!”