Gene Blevins/Getty Images

John Tesh

During announcer Gus Johnson's first college basketball game this season -- Seton Hall's 84-83 overtime upset of Kentucky on Dec. 8 -- the Fox broadcast played "Roundball Rock," John Tesh's memorable NBA on NBC song.

"We go to commercial, and I hear that music," said Johnson, Fox's lead college basketball play-by-play announcer. "I was confused for a second. I thought Bob Costas was about to come through my earpiece."

Johnson hit the talkback button on his headset to speak to his producer, Steve Scheer, because he thought someone had mistakenly pulled the wrong audio clip. Scheer explained to the effervescent announcer that Fox had purchased "Roundball Rock."

"I was like, 'Whoa, that's pretty cool,'" Johnson said. "I was over the moon. I remember that song from so many years. It was just like the theme song for basketball."

That theme song memorably accompanied the NBA on NBC from 1990 to 2002. NBC used to have the license to "Roundball Rock," but that expired when the network lost the rights to the NBA.

Fox's senior executives were huge fans of the song, so they contacted Tesh's music administrator and purchased the license, which goes year to year.

Both Fox and Tesh declined to disclose terms of the deal. But in addition to that contract, Tesh gets paid about 30 cents in royalties from a music rights organization every time Fox plays his song, which occurs during teases and bumps to break throughout the network's pregame, game and postgame coverage.

When Tesh's family and friends heard his NBA on NBC song during Fox's broadcast, some were shocked -- and even concerned that there was some sort of copyright infringement involved, though that wasn't the case. But Tesh was pleased to have his music reach a new audience.

"It was great," Tesh said. "I was really happy about it."

Fox televises men's Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, and women's Big East and Big 12 college basketball games. Both the main network and FS1 have adopted that former NBC theme as their own.

When ABC took over NBA broadcasting rights from NBC, Tesh, who was on Entertainment Tonight at the time, pitched his song, even offering to have musicians like Eric Clapton and Billy Joel provide solos, but ABC wanted to differentiate its brand.

"I was always surprised that ABC wouldn't want to use the theme," Tesh said, "because it had such a connection to pro basketball."

Though "Roundball Rock" was no longer present on pro basketball games, pro wrestling licensed it for a year more than a decade ago.

"I watched some of that," Tesh said, "and was like, 'Wow, this doesn't work.'"

The song, however, remained a fixture in pop culture. Saturday Night Live did a skit, starring Vince Vaughn and Jason Sudeikis, about it in 2013, and a 2018 autotuned clip of Kawhi Leonard, featuring "Roundball Rock," went viral. NBC also used it as part of its telecasts of Olympic basketball featuring NBA players in 2008 and 2016.

Now, more than 15 years since the song regularly played as part of a basketball broadcast, it has a new home.


NBC began airing "Roundball Rock" about six years before Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow was born.

But when a reporter hummed the tune for the 22-year-old Duke product, he still instantly recognized it.

"When I hear that song, it just reminds me of old, kind of '90s basketball," Winslow said. "It's for sure a classic in the basketball world."

For Detroit Pistons guard Wayne Ellington, that classic conjures up memories of sitting on the couch in his suburban Philadelphia home while watching NBA action on an old rabbit-eared box TV with his father, Wayne Ellington Sr.

"I grew up to that song," he said. "It's a good feeling that comes to me when I hear that."

Ellington, who won a national championship at North Carolina (as did Michael Jordan) spoke while wearing red and black Air Jordans.

"It reminds me of Michael Jordan," he said. "That's like the instant memory I think of when I hear that song."

Ellington, though, said "Roundball Rock" should remain an NBA song rather than being featured on college basketball telecasts.

Ryan Arcidiacono of the Chicago Bulls suggested that viewers eventually will become used to it accompanying college games.

The former Villanova point guard watched FS1's Big East broadcast of his Wildcats' victory against Xavier on Jan. 18 and knows "Roundball Rock" from old YouTube clips.

"It's such a classic basketball song. It's a little weird adjusting if you're watching a college game," Arcidiacono said. "It will become more natural once it kind of sticks for a little bit."

Washington Wizards forward Wesley Johnson, who starred in the Big East before Syracuse's move to the ACC, was pumped when informed that the song had been brought back.

"Are you serious?" he said. "That's cool ... Everything has come around full circle."

While sporting a retro satin Heat jacket in a visiting locker room, 38-year-old Udonis Haslem, Miami's all-time leading rebounder, hummed "Roundball Rock."

"When you heard that, you knew it was time for some basketball," he said. "I was ready to watch."

Currently, it gets the Fox crew ready.

Since studio host Mike Hill is based in Los Angeles, he sometimes starts his bleary-eyed Saturday workday as early as 6 a.m. when Fox broadcasts East Coast games.

"That song is my extra jolt of coffee to kind of get me up in the morning," he said. "I love hearing it."


During his 30 or so concerts a year, Tesh performs "Roundball Rock," shows YouTube clips of people playing it -- including on ukuleles -- and the SNL skit that further immortalized the song.

"I always joke that ('Roundball Rock') put one of my kids through college," he said.

Tesh also spends time during the concerts telling the origin story of that song.

He was covering the Tour de France when he heard that NBC was looking for NBA theme music. Inspiration struck in the middle of the night, so he called his home landline phone and left two messages -- one with the verse and one with the chorus -- on his answering machine and then later created an official demo.

Using the original answering machine, he plays the recording for the audience, many of whom are unfamiliar with that old technological device.

In addition to his concerts, Tesh hosts a syndicated radio show called "Intelligence for Your Life" on how to better oneself.

The self-improvement show relates to themes he gleaned from meditations and bible scriptures, something Tesh turned to as he was afflicted with a rare form of prostate cancer.

He has been cancer free for almost a year, a recovery he chronicles in his memoir, Relentless, which will be published in September. The book will include a chapter on "Roundball Rock" and material from his years as an Entertainment Tonight host.

Although he did not come up with the score, Tesh and his band did the recording for the memorable Entertainment Tonight song.

Before hosting Entertainment Tonight and creating "Roundball Rock" for NBC, Tesh was an announcer and composer for CBS Sports in the early 1980s.

With Fox now using Tesh's song, it extends his connection to yet another network.

And Fox has received a tremendous response to "Roundball Rock," according to vice president of production Geordie Wimmer, and hopes to use the former NBA on NBC theme next season as well, which should appeal to longtime basketball fans or ones just picking up the sport.

"Now they're going to grow up hearing it on Fox," Gus Johnson said. "It's going to be a great tradition going down the line."

-- Follow Jeff Fedotin on Twitter @JFedotin.