The “NBA on NBC” dominated the 1990s and remains the soundtrack for the time. Including the New York Knicks, great lead-ins have been showcased.
The NBA soundtrack for a decade has remained etched in stone for all-time. It conjures up memories of hard-nosed, in-your-face, nastiness at every turn.
Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley and even the tail-end of Magic Johson and Larry Bird‘s career were put front-and-center when the NBA TV rights switched from CBS to NBC for the 1990-91 season.
NBC owned NBA rights from 1955 through 1962, but, come on; nothing compares to the golden age. If CBS benefited during the rebirth of the 1980s, NBC ran with the explosion a decade later.
NBC’s production value coupled with Jim Fagan’s silky-smooth voice equates to an epic presentation.
Incredibly, ABC/ESPN has acted as the top dog since 2002, thus owning a much longer run than its predecessor. But there’s just no shot anything can compare to the greatest sports broadcast of all-time.
We now travel through the soundtrack of our childhood (for so many of us) to present the greatest “NBA on NBC” game lead-ins.
New York Knicks-Chicago Bulls, 1993 ECF, Game 5
What is an “NBA on NBC” broadcast without the New York Knicks and Michael Jordan?
The great Marv Albert, the top NBC and MSG Network dog at the time, took this incredible production to new heights. Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” mixed with Jordan’s resurgence in Game 4 all led a 2-2 series tie to Madison Square Garden and Game 5.
The Knicks winning 27-straight games at home? Are you kidding me?
This lead-in could be described as torture just as easily as fantastic nostalgia. The Patrick Ewing-led Knicks, wearing the sleeve of an entire workmanlike city game in and game out, is the only thing Knickerbocker fandom can cling to at the moment.
New York Knicks-Indiana Pacers, 1994 ECF, Game 7
The hicks and the Knicks, the small-town folk vs. the city slickers—it was all a part of the New York Knicks-Indiana Pacers rivalry.
Thanks to a Reggie Miller conquering act (that forced an entire city to turn on Spike Lee), the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals (without No. 23) turned ultra-special.
New York Knicks-Houston Rockets, 1994 NBA Finals, Game 7
We’ll stick with the Knicks, for now. When Albert wasn’t the voice, the ultra-familiar and comforting Bob Costas took hold.
The 2-for-18 (John Starks) night will forever haunt Knicks fans (and Ewing, who was thoroughly outplayed by Hakeem Olajuwon all series), but this lead-in serves as one of the greats.
Game 7, the year after Jordan suddenly disappeared, meant everything to an entire city.
Chicago Bulls-Los Angeles Lakers, 1991 NBA Finals, Game 5
This one was an entire half-decade in waiting. Suffering through the nastiness of the Detroit Pistons and excellence (and nastiness) of the Boston Celtics, Michael Jordan was one win away from his chip in NBC’s first season.
Also tremendous about NBC was how they paid it back. For a franchise like the Chicago Bulls, paying it back to the city’s roots was the calling on this night.
Phoenix Suns-Seattle Supersonics, 1993 WCF, Game 6
Chuck, Charles Barkley, finally breaking through not only with an NBA MVP, but with a finals appearance happened under NBC’s watch.
This lead-in showcased Chuck under “battle-circumstance” tones ringing true in our ears.
Orlando Magic-Indiana Pacers, 1995 ECF, Game 6
Of course, Reggie Miller’s name shows up.
A series after Ewing’s ill-fated finger-roll hit the back iron and out, Miller’s Indiana Pacers took on Shaquille O’Neal‘s Orlando Magic who had just knocked out the comeback kid, MJ.
Chicago Bulls-Indiana Pacers, 1998 ECF, Game 7
Like the Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers could never quite breakthrough during the 1990s, thanks to one man.
This lead-in conjures memories of Larry Bird’s stoic demeanor after Reggie Miller’s game-winner went through the hoop after his infamous MJ push-off.
Los Angeles Lakers-Indiana Pacers, 2000 NBA Finals, Game 1
Once one dynasty ends, another begins. The Pacers had no shot against the Shaquille O’Neal-led Los Angeles Lakers during a time in which the big man could actually still dominate.
Los Angeles Lakers-Portland Trail Blazers, 2000 WCF, Game 7
Man, the Portland Trail Blazers were robbed. The 2000 Western Conference Finals were a rough one for the Great Northwest.
Chicago Bulls-Portland Trail Blazers, 1992 NBA Finals, Game 4
Clyde Drexler remained in the chip-less class until 1995 when he tag-teamed with Hakeem Olajuwon. One of his “almosts” came in 1992.
Orlando Magic-Chicago Bulls, 1996 ECF, Game 1 (Lil’ Penny)
Lil’ Penny became one of the NBA’s greatest marketing strategies of all-time. Chris Rock voicing the puppet-sized Penny Hardaway helped the late 1990s push through to the next century.
Chicago Bulls-Orlando Magic, 1996 Regular Season
Even regular season lead-ins were epic over at NBC. With the Knicks fading just a bit (post-Riley), Shaq’s Magic took the lead (especially after the 1995 NBA Finals appearance).
Chicago Bulls-Detroit Pistons, 1992 Regular Season
The first 1990s rivalry came in the form of Chicago-Detroit. Riley’s Knicks were still trying to find its way and the fading Pistons gave everything and then some just as Jordan took hold of the league.
Chicago Bulls-Los Angeles Lakers, 1991 NBA Finals, Game 1 (Jordan)
The greatest lead-in comes in the form of Michael Jordan’s first championship feat. It was NBC’s first NBA Finals and the marquee star of the league took center stage.
The marriage of Michael Jordan and the “NBA on NBC” was so perfect it’s tough to explain.
The Final Credits
Before bowing out officially, and passing the torch to ABC, NBC ended on a high note with these closing credits.