NBA on NBC roundball rock Screen grab: NBA on NBC

The NBA’s exclusive negotiating window with current television partners ESPN and TNT Sports came and went without the league reaching a new deal. That means that NBC can now officially enter the fray, with many having speculated that the network will look to bring the NBA back to its airwaves for the first time since 2002.

Considering that NBC was the NBA’s most prominent broadcast partner throughout the 1990s — which coincided with all six of Michael Jordan’s championships with the Chicago Bulls — many basketball fans have fond memories of the network’s previous relationship with professional basketball. That includes NBC’s old NBA theme song: John Tesh’s “Roundball Rock.”

While it seems unlikely — albeit not impossible — that NBC will return to hosting the NBA Finals, it seems more than plausible that the network will have at least some sort of presence in the league’s next media rights deal. Thus, it’s fair to wonder whether NBC would have the ability to bring “Roundball Rock” back to its airwaves, with all indications being that the network could.

In a Q&A with USA Today’s For The Win blog in 2018, Tesh revealed that he owns the publishing rights for the popular theme song. In fact, NBC even used “Roundball Rock” while showing the replay of an Atlanta Falcons basketball-themed touchdown celebration on Sunday Night Football in 2017.

“NBC doesn’t own the rights, the deal happened so quickly, so I own the publishing,” Tesh said. “I have friends still at NBC, I know all those guys. I haven’t talked to them in awhile. I thought that was an amazingly fast decision to pull up that theme and do that for the football deal. It’s like $30 or something like that, you just pay the royalties as long as it’s not the theme song.”

While NBC would have to pay more than the $30 standard royalty fee — which seems cheap? — to use “Roundball Rock” as its NBA theme song, there’s no reason to think that the network couldn’t do so. The only potential conflict might be that Fox currently uses the song for its CBB on Fox broadcasts and its unclear whether the network’s deal for the song is an exclusive one.

Considering that ESPN used the song as recently as 2022 for a 75th anniversary “RetroCast” of a game between the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks, and that NBC has used it for basketball coverage at recent Summer Olympics, that would seem unlikely. All signs point to Tesh dictating the publishing rights to his most famous song, leaving the door open for it to make its way back to NBC airwaves.

[For The Win]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.