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The 30 best ‘NBA on NBC’ intros

Relive the glory of basketball nostalgia with these old ‘NBA on NBC’ intros.

The 12-year run of the NBA on NBC is mostly beloved for John Tesh’s iconic “Roundball Rock” musical intro, which just so happens to be my ringtone. But I will always cherish it because of the network’s soaring introduction monologues to its big games, which transmitted the viewer inside a piece of art with intense moods and high stakes.

Basketball wasn’t better in the ‘90s than it is today, not by a longshot. But I do think it was sold far more effectively, with the kind of visual and thematic care that made the key figures larger than life. I wish the league’s current television partners tried harder to mimic the scale and grandeur of NBC’s work.

Luckily, YouTube offers us the chance to look back on the days where playoff games really felt like epic dramas. I found more than 150 available on the internet and collected them in a playlist you can find here.

While you watch that, let me show you my 30 favorites. Let me know if you think I overranked, underranked, or missed any from this glorious era.

(All the titles were made up by me).

30. “First Round”

Timberwolves at Sonics
1998 First-Round Game 5
Bob Costas

I love the timing of this one. George Karl’s deep breath sets the mood before any narration is needed, and the multiple Gary Payton still shots capture the incredulousness of Seattle’s first-round demons. Costas’ closing line – “Maybe too often” – is delivered perfectly.

29. “Lil’ Penny is Ready”

Magic at Bulls
1996 East Finals Game 1
Chris Rock

No NBA on NBC list is complete without including this one, even if it’s gimmick’y and the narration doesn’t age well.

28. “Teacher and Pupil”

Heat at Knicks
1997 East Semifinals Game 3
Tom Hammond

This was the first of many NBC introductions for brutal Heat-Knicks playoff games, so it’s neat to look back and remember the larger context before it was obscured by all the fighting. Teacher vs. pupil framed the two teams beautifully, especially because the teacher-pupil relationship was flipped on the court. The music makes me feel like I’m at a graduation ceremony, and Hammond leans into the theme with his word choices — “protege,” “taught their former coach a lesson,” “school was out,” “pass the test.”

27. “The Second Season”

Pacers at Knicks
1994 East Finals Game 7
Bob Costas

The highest points of this intro rival anything NBC has put together. The rapid tone change before Game 5. The drumbeat as John Starks violently high-fives Spike Lee. The final line — “48 minutes from what they were merely expected to do.” Those moments give me chills. But I docked this one for all the fluff it took to reach those high beats. If NBC had an Achilles heel, it was the length of some of their intros. This one was nearly two minutes long, which is a bit much.

26. “Stalemate”

Blazers at Lakers
2000 West Finals Game 7
Bob Costas

As much as I love the openings that center around a specific theme, sometimes it’s better to simply run through the key protagonists and what’s at stake for each. Costas does so comprehensively in this one, illustrating the wide-ranging set of characters in what proved to be a memorable series.

25. “Something to savor”

Knicks at Bulls
1998 NBA Regular Season
Bob Costas

Did I only include this one because of the early release of ESPN’s 10-part The Last Dance documentary. Yeah, probably.

24. “Not Like This”

Knicks at Bulls
1993 East Finals Game 6
Marv Albert

I loved two things about this video. One was the close-up picture of a hoop as Albert narrates Charles Smith’s three blown bunnies. Talk about vivid imagery. The second: the melancholy feel of the music, combined with Pat Riley stuttering with doubt as he tries to sell the public on this being the Knicks’ “defining moment.” It’s as if NBC knew New York would never be the same after Game 5.

23. “Right Now”

Bulls at Knicks
1993 East Finals Game 1
Marv Albert

Van Halen’s “Right Now” was (and still is) a popular song choice for a pump-up video, one NBC used a few times too over the years. But it works perfectly for this video because it fits the overall theme while simultaneously allowing NBC to visually speed up the entire season before reaching the climax we all knew was coming.

22. “Desperation”

Sonics at Rockets
1997 West Semifinals Game 7
Greg Gumbel

Gumbel deserved more chances to narrate these introduction videos. He had a way of putting his own spin on common themes, expertly using language that others wouldn’t. Seattle didn’t just fall behind Houston, they “teetered on the edge.” They didn’t just win all their elimination games, they “persevered.” The sentence structure that both conveys Houston’s history facing long deficits and their history against these Sonics. We’ll hear more from Gumbel later on in this countdown.

21. “Another Time And Place”

Pistons at Knicks
1992 East Quarterfinals Game 2
Marv Albert

Albert’s narration tended to be super serious and at times over the top, so I enjoyed the goofy change of pace. I’m not sure the second half of this intro was necessary, though it did give us Dennis Rodman picking up a stray dog that wandered onto the Madison Square Garden court.

20. “The Year Of Sir Charles”

Suns at Sonics
1993 West Finals Game 6
Dick Enberg

It’s the little touches that make this video work. The patriotic music choice before leading with his gold medal. The split screen of Barkley deep in thought on one side and his accomplishments flashing on the other. Enberg’s repeated use of Barkley’s full name. This intro underscores how much care was actually put into these introductions.

19. “I Wanna Take You On A Rollercoaster”

Pacers at Knicks
1999 East Finals Game 6
Tom Hammond

18. “The Ride of a Lifetime”

Magic at Rockets
1995 Finals Game 3
Marv Albert

These two videos show how NBC used the same theme — a rollercoaster ride — to convey very different emotional journeys. The Knicks’ rollercoaster was unplanned and filled with self-induced drama, so NBC chose Lunatic Calm’s “Leave You Far Behind,” a heart-pumping dance song that conveys raw, and at times misdirected, energy. Houston’s rollercoaster, on the other hand, was more of a fantasy story, so NBC chose a musical element that made the Rockets’ journey to the title seem like a quest. Both choices fit the teams perfectly and showed how the power of sports is that it provides singular variations of familiar story arcs.

17. “Michael vs. Sir Charles”

Bulls at Suns
1993 Finals Game 1
Bob Costas

This one’s on the list because NBC used the Jurassic Park theme song before the movie even came out. That is a baller move. But NBC also uses it brilliantly to paint the contrast between the classic success of Michael Jordan and the bumpier, rawer success of Barkley. Jordan’s section is narrated over the slower part of the song, while Barkley’s comes over the louder section. This was another example of NBC’s attention to detail.

16. “Big City vs. Small Town”

Jazz at Bulls
1997 NBA Finals Game 1
Marv Albert

In general, the 12 NBC openings for the two six-game Bulls-Jazz Finals series are a tad overrated in my book because they got a little too sappy. (I’m sure many of y’all like the post-Flu Game one, but it kinda makes me cringe). The best of the bunch is the first one because it wonderfully paints the contrast between the dominant incumbents from Chicago and the small-town underdogs from Utah.

15. “Big ‘Mo”

Blazers at Lakers
1991 West Finals Game 6
Dick Enberg

The music choice makes this entire video work. I feel like I’m in a murder mystery. Holy crap, this is tense.

14. “A Test of Faith”

Suns at Bulls
1993 Finals Game 4
Bob Costas

Sometimes, the less said the better. Game 3 of the 1993 NBA Finals — a triple-overtime thriller won by the visiting Suns, who had dropped the first two games at home — was such a weird event that it needed to be commemorated on its own. Costas knew he couldn’t say anything to properly sum it up. Thus, Bon Jovi’s “Keep The Faith” serves as the perfect backdrop.

13. “Little Brother”

Cavaliers at Bulls
1992 East Finals Game 5
Marv Albert

I’m not sure anyone really believed the Cavaliers would beat the Bulls in this series, even if they had knotted it up at two. It had the same feel that 2016’s Raptors-Cavaliers series had, where everyone knew who was going to win. But it was still noteworthy that the Cavaliers actually fought with pride, not unlike a boy who finally stood up to his big brother. Albert’s narration properly captures that sentiment while still conveying the reality that the Bulls were favored.

12. “Best Team Ever”

Bulls at Sonics
1996 Finals Game 4
Bob Costas

The glorification of Jordan’s jerk-ish leadership tendencies makes me a bit uncomfortable, but Costas rescues this with some of the most poetic narration of his great career. Everything after “they tower over all present competition” is right up there with the best any TV network has ever produced. (Imagine this wording, but with Kevin Durant’s switch to Golden State instead of Jordan’s return from retirement).

11. “Game 7”

Jazz at Sonics
1996 West Finals Game 7
Greg Gumbel

Gumble is his usual excellent self, but the music and camera work make this introduction feel epic. I love the musical contrast, which makes the small-market Jazz seem like underdogs and the fast-charging Sonics feel like they belong in a horror movie. The dissolves and fades to separate the different segments of the video underscore how each point is related to each other. Matching Gary Payton’s loud clap to the drum beat is a brilliant touch. All in all, this video provided real stakes to a matchup between two teams that nobody thought could beat the mighty Bulls.

10. “Vindication”

Magic at Rockets
1995 Finals Game 4
Bob Costas

If the Game 3 intro to these Finals felt like being taken on a fantasy quest, this one is the epilogue when Frodo and friends return to the Shire. In time, this has become the perfect appreciation of the Rockets’ mini-dynasty.

9. “The Tormenter”

Bulls vs. Knicks
1996 East Semifinals Game 3
Marv Albert

“The concept may be team. In reality, it’s the individual.” Whether intentional or not, Albert perfectly encapsulates decades of NBA marketing with those 10 words. From there, he made me feel so sorry for Patrick Ewing. How much must it suck for the official broadcast partner to promote a game by repeatedly dunking on you?

8. “One Game”

Pacers at Bulls
1998 East Finals Game 7
Bob Costas

Costas’ delivery here is perfect. The slow pacing. The repetition of “one game.” The mix between short sentences and longer ones. The twist at the end: Jordan’s section ends with “one game” instead of beginning with it, a clear signal to the viewer that he is the biggest story here. The script itself isn’t magical, but Costas’ voice makes it so. Chills.

7. “Agony”

Bulls at Magic
1996 East Finals Game 3
Marv Albert

Knowing what we know now, this feels a lot bigger than a video setting up a must-win Game 3 after losing two road games. Because of Shaquille O’Neal’s summer departure to the Lakers, it has become known as the last chance for Orlando to sustain a future dynasty. But the video also stands beautifully on its own, with well-executed music changes and a beautiful still of Penny Hardaway peering to his left as if he’s staring at a black-and-white image of Brian Hill’s final huddle of the previous year’s NBA Finals.

6. “Neither Right, Nor Fair”

Bulls at Blazers
1992 Finals Game 4
Bob Costas

Imagine this voiceover, but instead of it being about Clyde Drexler in 1992, it’s about Dirk Nowitzki in 2011. Same 2-1 deficit. Same history of postseason failures obscuring their greatness. Similar age range — Nowitzki was 32 and in his 13th season at the time. Similar caliber of competition: Drexler against Jordan, Nowitzki against James and Wade, though the former hadn’t won a title. It would have given any human the feels, especially knowing Nowitzki would persevere when Drexler didn’t. This was an incredibly powerful, yet empathetic way to convey the overwhelming pressure title-less all-time greats face before they win one.

5. “David vs. Goliath”

76ers at Lakers
2001 Finals Game 1
Marv Albert

I don’t know what’s better: the original version of this intro from the 2001 Finals or this brilliant remake for the first Curry-James, Warriors-Cavs Finals battle in 2015. Both are terrific, but I’m still partial to the original. David vs. Goliath fits the Iverson-O’Neal battle better, and there are a number of NBC’s typically brilliant little touches dotted through the video. For example, notice how the camera zooms to Iverson’s “The Answer” sleeve just after Albert’s “Who can stop this imposing force?” narration ends. What perfect timing.

4. “Worst Nightmare”

Bulls vs. Knicks
1993 East Finals Game 5
Marv Albert

Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap, holy crap. I feel like I’m about to start an apocalyptic movie where a supernatural demon has been set loose to torment the world. Jordan feels like Godzilla here after scoring 54 points to lead Chicago to a Game 4 win. My heart is still racing as I type this, even though I’ve already seen that video a thousand times. When does Game 5 start?

3. “Coronation”

Bulls at Suns
1993 Finals Game 6
Bob Costas

The 1993 Finals were really effin weird. The Suns entered as profound underdogs with one edge: They had home-court advantage. When they squandered that edge with two home losses, they looked done, but defied logic with a triple-overtime Game 3 victory. When Jordan dropped 55 on them in Game 4, they also looked done, but defied logic again by winning Game 5 on the road easily. It was inexplicable, a feeling Costas expertly captured in his opening monologue. There’s no way God actually was pulling the strings for the Suns … right? What other explanation existed? It was the ideal backdrop to a Game 6 that lived up to the billing with John Paxson’s last-second three.

2. “Two Dreams Collide”

Rockets at Suns
1995 West Semifinals Game 7
Greg Gumbel

Remember when I said that NBC’s only Achilles heel was that their introduction videos occasionally dragged on for too long? This one clocks in at a crisp 41 seconds, with no wasted words, images, or music. We have a saying at SB Nation: Sometimes, it’s just best to Say The Thing instead of getting cute. Gumbel says the damn thing bluntly — one dream will “die,” Barkley’s legacy is “hanging in the balance,” “the banner does not hang for Clyde Drexler.” In 41 seconds, I know exactly how big a game this really is. This is a nearly perfect piece of art.

1. “Being Mike”

Bulls at Lakers
1991 Finals Game 4
Michael Jordan

Twenty-nine years later, this reads like a poignant social commentary on the nature of celebrity, which has gripped our culture in new and unexpected ways. That it came before the release of Sam Smith’s landmark The Jordan Rules, before the burden of Being Mike led to Jordan retiring in his prime, before two returns to the fast life of basketball that consumed him, and before an awkward post-playing process that flipped his ruthlessness from a virtue to an anchor, is extraordinary. How the hell did Costas take one playoff performance and somehow capture the allure and pain of being a national icon like Jordan? It’s one of the most impressive feats I’ve ever seen.

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