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Mark Bennett B-Sides

March 24, 2011

B-SIDES: 1979 Indiana State Sycamores gave us ‘One Shining Moment’

TERRE HAUTE — In Indiana, it is permissible for a grown man to cry when facing basketball-related nostalgia.

The state constitution should contain such an amendment.

I’ll admit it — I get choked up when Jimmy Chitwood promises “I’ll make it” during the Hickory Huskers’ final timeout of the greatest hoops flick ever, “Hoosiers.” Others’ eyes might well up at the sight of grainy video footage of Pete Maravich in his LSU days.

So, after reading the following revelation, guys who also happen to be Indiana State Sycamore fans may want to wear shades — to maintain their dignity — while watching the closing seconds of the NCAA championship game on April 4.

“One Shining Moment” — the musical backdrop used by CBS for its popular Big Dance highlights montage, shown after every NCAA men’s basketball title game since 1987 — was inspired by the 1979 Sycamores.

Yes, it is (gulp) true. The quintessential Cinderella team captivated the song’s writer, David Barrett. Thus, even though ISU got knocked out of this year’s tournament in the first round, the university will be present in spirit when the 2011 winners cut down the nets in Houston, 12 days from now.

Wow. Terre Haute is the setting for the national anthem of March Madness. Why? “Because I lived in America and loved basketball,” Barrett explained by phone from his home in Ann Arbor, Mich. “And for a lot of people who think they are basketball players, as I did, we were watching Larry.”

(“Larry,” of course, is Larry Bird, who led ISU from anonymity to a No. 1 ranking and a 33-0 record before falling to Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans in the 1979 NCAA Final.)

The story behind Barrett’s “One Shining Moment” is filled with irony, rejection, acceptance and good timing.

Seven years after ISU’s improbable NCAA run, Barrett found himself sitting virtually alone in a bar at 2 a.m., watching the day’s NBA highlights on ESPN. Up on the TV screen in that bar — which was located in, of all places, East Lansing (home of Michigan State University) — was Bird, performing his wizardry with the Boston Celtics.

“Then the most beautiful waitress in the Midwest, who didn’t know I existed, sat down beside me at the bar, which was empty,” Barrett recalled. “So, what next?”

He tried to impress her with his knowledge of Bird, dating back to 1979. “It was my moment to talk about what I know,” Barrett said, “and she was not impressed.

“I turned around and she was gone, never to be seen again,” he continued, “but I got a great song out of it.”

The phrase “one shining moment” hit Barrett as he walked out. The next morning, he sat at a table in the Knight Cap 2, waiting to meet a friend for breakfast, and wrote the lyrics to “One Shining Moment” on a napkin. They ate, and Barrett drove back to his apartment in Haslet, Mich., and composed the song’s music at his “funky little piano” in less than 20 minutes.

Soon, another friend heard a tape of Barrett playing “One Shining Moment” and paid to have him record it professionally. Then, Barrett bumped into a childhood friend, Armen Keteyian, an investigative reporter for CBS, who eventually heard his old buddy’s song and passed it along to Doug Towey, CBS Sports’ creative director. Towey loved it, and planned to use it during the highlights of Super Bowl XXI, but postgame interviews ran long and it got bumped.

So, Towey saved it for the 1987 NCAA basketball championship two months later.

Seconds after Indiana guard Keith Smart’s corner shot beat Syracuse, Barrett’s life changed as he watched it all on a sports bar TV.

“I didn’t know how they were going to use [“One Shining Moment”] and I saw Keith Smart hit that shot, and then, wow,” he recalled. “It was like lightning in a bottle.”

CBS pieced together video snippets of the ’87 tournament’s most dramatic moments, accompanied by the sounds of Barrett singing and performing his song. That’s been the routine ever since, with CBS later using versions by Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross and Jennifer Hudson. Hudson’s rendition drew widespread criticism because the montage included clips of her singing, rather than all-basketball highlights. As of Wednesday, Barrett wasn’t sure whose version CBS will air the night of April 4.

These days, Barrett, now 56, writes songs and scores musical themes for such things as the telecasts of the PGA Championship and tennis’ U.S. Open. He’s married now, and his wife is an avid basketball fan, too. They live in Ann Arbor. The waitress who walked off during his Larry Bird stories in that East Lansing tavern is now an English teacher, and Barrett learned that she uses his inspirational book, “One Shining Moment,” based on the song.

Barrett has withstood unending gripes that his signature song is corny and syrupy. Nonetheless, it is a March Madness fixture and marks its silver anniversary on CBS this April, 32 years after a team from Terre Haute, Indiana, caught Barrett’s attention. Even though Barrett grew up in Michigan, he “actually was pulling for Indiana State [against Michigan State], because I was so taken by this guy, Larry Bird — like, who is he, and where’d he come from?” He soon found the answers, and tried to explain it to that waitress while they watched Bird’s NBA highlights in 1986.

“I sat there thinking, ‘This guy’s so good, he’s at a time in his life that he’s like Picasso with a painting,’” Barrett said of Bird’s Celtics heyday. “He could do anything.”

Except write a song. That’s Barrett’s court or canvas. A couple years ago, a reporter asked Bird if he realized “One Shining Moment” was written about him and the Sycamores. “He said he didn’t know that,” Barrett said, “but he said something [that was] vintage Larry: ‘Well, the song’s done good.’”

I need a handkerchief.

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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