Carl Lewis can run, but the nine-time Olympic track and field champion cannot hide from one of the most atrocious performances of “The Star-Spangled Banner” ever at a professional sporting event.
Lewis turned spangled into mangled before an NBA game one night in 1993. The only redeeming value to his rendition is that it led an ESPN SportsCenter anchor to crack an epic joke on-air that broke up everyone on the set.
It gave YouTube something funny to cancel out Lewis’ tortured work.
Performing the national anthem is a tall task
Not just anyone can pull off a Whitney Houston-worthy performance of the national anthem before a sporting event, and some failures aren’t the fault of the singer. Sometimes the accompanying music fails or the microphone goes dead mid-verse.
More often than not, the culprit is the singer forgetting the words (Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton) or hitting sour notes (Fergie and Chaka Khan, both at NBA All-Star Games) while trying to put their signature on the tune.
The crowd will often times forgive forgotten lyrics, on the grounds that performing in front of a full house can be nerve-wracking. That was the case when coach Maurice Cheeks stepped in to help a young singer before an NBA game.
But boo-birds abound when the artist butchers the song the way Lewis did.
(We’ll leave Rosanne Barr out of the discussion. The sitcom star was intent on murdering the national anthem that night in San Diego.)
Carl Lewis chalks up an epic fail
Carl Lewis will go into the books as one of the greatest track and field athletes ever. Lewis won the long jump at four consecutive Olympics and finished his career with nine gold medals. Though the competition was watered down by the Soviet Union-led boycott in 1984, his four golds in Los Angeles to match Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics rated as one of the great feats in the sport’s history.
As his career was winding down, Lewis began branching out into other interests that included acting and music. As such, he was no stranger to performing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But that isn’t to say that the version he performed on Jan. 21, 1993, before a game between the New Jersey Nets and Chicago Bulls at Brendan Byrne Arena wasn’t strange.
Lewis appeared doomed from the start when he held the opening “oh” for entirely too long, but he rallied until his voice cracked at “and the rockets’ red glare.” Unfathomably, he let out an “uh-oh” before continuing.
Telling the crowd, “I’ll make up for it now,” Lewis charged hard into the final lines and held the last note impressively long. By then, though, the damage had been done. Players from the two teams could be seen pulling their warmups over their faces to hide smirks.
Charley Steiner couldn’t contain himself after hearing Carl Lewis sing
Los Angeles Dodgers fans know Charley Steiner as the longtime radio play-by-play voice of the MLB team. His best-known gig before then was as an anchor on SportsCenter after joining ESPN in 1988.
Steiner was working the night that Carl Lewis botched the national anthem, which was a godsend for viewers familiar with Steiner’s reputation for breaking out in laughter over a funny highlight or comment by his co-anchor.
When the clip of Lewis’ anthem was done, so was Steiner. He could hardly contain himself in reporting that Lewis had just performed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as written by “Francis Scott Off-Key.”