NCAA

‘One Shining Moment’: Who Was the Inspiration for the NCAA Tournament Anthem?

Over the last three-plus decades, the NCAA Tournament has ended with the playing of “One Shining Moment” as college basketball fans watch a montage of highlights from that year’s tourney. But everyone who’s into March Madness knows that, right?

But what some may not know is that “One Shining Moment” was never actually meant for the NCAA Tournament, even though the inspiration for the song was one of the greatest basketball players of all time, that being Larry Bird. And the crazy part is that the writer of the song, David Barrett, actually came up with the idea for “One Shining Moment” in East Lansing, Michigan. And you know who went to school in East Lansing, Michigan, right?

Larry Bird was the inspiration for ‘One Shining Moment’

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As just mentioned, Larry Bird was the inspiration for “One Shining Moment” as writer David Barrett watched Bird play a game for the Boston Celtics in 1986, which was a really good time to be watching the Celts as that 1985-1986 team is considered by many to be one of the strongest teams in NBA history.

Boston went 67-15 that season, including a 40-1 record at the Boston Garden, and lost just one game through the first three rounds of the postseason before defeating the Houston Rockets in six games in the NBA Finals.

As for Larry Bird, he won his third consecutive NBA MVP award that season, averaging 25.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and two steals per game. So you can see why Barrett might have been impressed.

Barrett came up with the idea for ‘One Shining Moment’ in East Lansing, Michigan, where Magic Johnson went to school

While it’s unclear exactly which Larry Bird performance inspired “One Shining Moment,” what we do know is that Barrett, a Michigan native, came up with the idea for the song while sitting in a bar watching a Celtics game in East Lansing, where he’d just finished up a gig.

East Lansing, of course, is the home of Michigan State University. And who is the greatest player to ever come out of Michigan State? That, of course, would be Magic Johnson, who obviously had a longtime rivalry with Larry Bird, which actually began at the NCAA Tournament back in 1979, eight years before “One Shining Moment” became the official anthem of March Madness.

The Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry began at the 1979 NCAA Tournament

Before Magic Johnson’s LA Lakers and Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics met three times in the NBA Finals in the 1980s, the two legends first crossed paths in the 1979 NCAA title game as Magic’s Michigan State Spartans met Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores.

Bird had actually already been drafted by the Celtics at that point while Magic would be taken with the top pick in the draft by the Lakers a few months later. Indiana State came into the ’79 championship game with a perfect 31-0 record while Michigan State entered the matchup at 25-6.

Bird didn’t shoot the ball particularly well that night, making just seven of 21 shots from the floor on the way to scoring 19 points, and suffered just the 13th loss of his college career as the Spartans earned a 75-64 win with Magic leading the way with 24 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.

The game remains the highest-rated NCAA championship game in history.

Stats courtesy of Sports Reference