The Story Behind The March Madness Theme Song, One Shining Moment

Since 1987, the end of each NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament features a montage of the best moments from that year's games set to the same song, "One Shining Moment." The song is synonymous with college basketball, which makes sense since it was written as a love letter to the sport by a guy who loves it — David Barrett. "What happened with the song has become something I could never have dreamed of," Barrett told Fox Sports. "Music has been my life, and basketball is also my great love. To have them joined together like this is perfect – but it could so easily have happened differently."

The track has gone on to become virtually synonymous with basketball, and it's beloved by fans and players alike. In fact, a 2002 article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the song mentioned that the former Michigan State standout used to sing the song while practicing by himself when he was a kid.

Barrett wrote the song in minutes

"One Shining Moment" was born — like an inordinate amount of other great ideas — on a napkin. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, David Barrett was sitting at a restaurant waiting for a friend to arrive for lunch when he had an idea for a song and started scratching it out on a napkin. "There was no grand marketing strategy. I just wrote a song," he told the paper. After lunch, Barrett went home with the song's lyrics in hand and wrote the music in just 15 minutes.

Being a working musician and songwriter, "One Shining Moment" was one of 20 that he had penned just that month, but it materialized easier than many of his other tunes. "Fifteen minutes," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I wish they were all that easy." The song was written in 1986, and given its status as a classic song that plays a huge part in one of the biggest events on the college sports calendar, it may come as a surprise that "One Shining Moment" wouldn't make its debut for quite some time after it was originally written.

The song makes its way to CBS

A year after it was written, David Barrett still hadn't done anything with his musical ode to the hardwood. One day, he met with a friend of his named Armen Keteyian. Keteyian spent decades working in network television and now serves as an anchor and executive producer for the sports website The Athletic. At the time of their meeting — in the mid to late 1980s — he was working at Sports Illustrated. 

Barrett mentioned the song, and after Keteyian expressed his interest in hearing it, the musician recorded a version of it and sent his friend a copy (via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Keteyian must have liked what he heard because without telling Barrett, he passed it along to television network CBS. The network has been the home of March Madness for decades, and upon getting their hands on Barrett's work, the decision was made to use it. The only thing was they initially planned to play it not at the end of the NCAA Tournament but after the Super Bowl (via NCAA).

One Shining Moment becomes a March Madness tradition

The song became the soundtrack for each iteration of the NCAA Tournament's most dramatic and compelling moments. In the years since its debut, "One Shining Moment" has become a part of the March Madness festivities.

David Barrett wrote a piece for the NCAA's website about what the tournament means to him and how it feels to have written a song that has made such an impact. "I'm always struck by the genuine sense of celebration. It is a basketball Mardi Gras," he wrote. "Starry-eyed children with colored beads around their necks; limping baby boomers remembering their glory days on the basketball court; women with t-shirts with phrases like ... Rock, Chalk Jay Hawk!; and the students — oh yes the students — who wander the streets in collegiate tribes, shouting back & forth to each other. This is their moment to be young like this."

There have been different versions of the song over the years, with the most commonly used version featuring Luther Vandross handling lead vocal duties. Others who have tackled "One Shining Moment" include a slew of big-name musicians like Teddy Pendergrass, Jennifer Hudson, and Ne-Yo (via Fox Sports).

Fans of the song faced a scare in 2016

In 2016, fans were concerned that with the championship game airing on cable network TBS as opposed to its traditional home on CBS, the song wouldn't make an appearance (via USA Today). Fortunately, the song is so engrained in the tournament that it made its way to TBS and continues to feature in each years' culminating highlights package.

"We had a discussion with Turner about it, and it was decided that's something fans have become used to," CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said (per USA Today), "and it would be a good and appropriate way to finish off the tournament as we have for the last 30 years." Turner president David Levy said at the time that "it really came down to [that] it's a piece of history," Fans were happy to see the tradition continue, although TBS and Turner decided to have a little fun with it. "We did a little tongue-in-cheek with Charles Barkley singing it. That gave the Turner flair while keeping it," Levy said.

David Barrett has gone on to do much more than just One Shining Moment

After the success of "One Shining Moment," David Barrett found success writing music for other events like the PGA Championship, U.S. Open, Olympics, and even a PBS special focusing on C.S. Lewis, the author known for writing "The Chronicles of Narnia" series of books(via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Barrett also served as an opening act on tour with singer-songwriter Art Garfunkel. 

Still, "One Shining Moment" remains his legacy. "Even now, it is so special to hear it whenever it is played," Barrett told Fox Sports in 2021. "They have turned it into visual poetry. It brings back these fond memories of when I wrote it, this time in my life when everything came together and set up all this opportunity. It is emotional, and I couldn't be more gratified. The song still sounds like it did with a piano and me in my apartment."