The best performances of the National Anthem at a Sports Event

1. Marvin Gaye (1983 NBA All-Star Game, Los Angeles)
The greatest moment in NBA All-Star Game history, hands down, nothing else comes close. And that’s saying something. I don’t want to build it up too much, but you have to remember the circumstances: it was the early-’80s; they were in the celebrity capital of the world; Marvin was probably the coolest singer alive at the time; Bird, Isiah, Magic, Kareem, Doctor J, Moses, Jack Sikma and Jack Sikma’s blonde permed afro were looking on; the expectations were pretty high to begin with; and everyone sang the song in the most traditional way possible up until that point. So Marvin saunters out with his oversized sunglasses, gives the song his own little spin and absolutely crushes it … by the tail end of the song, the entire Forum is clapping and swaying like it’s the Apollo Theater. This will never be topped. It’s impossible. Right year, right sport, right city. Even more poignant when you remember that he was killed just 14 months later.

Remaining in reverse order

6. The Grateful Dead (S.F. Giants home game, Opening Day, 1993)
I love this one for a few reasons. First, they somehow made it sound a little Dead-ish with the vocals, even though it’s a respectful version from beginning to end. Second, this was during one of Jerry’s last “he’s clean, he’s sober, he might actually live a few more years!” stages (he died just two years later). Third, you have to appreciate the symmetry of the Dead performing in San Fran (where the crowd goes absolutely bonkers by the end of the song). And fourth, you see potentially-soon-to-be convicted felon Barry Bonds (in his first Giants game, no less) with one of those “I don’t know who the hell those guys were, but that was pretty cool!” looks on his face at the end of the clip.

5. The Girl Who Froze (Blazers home game, 2002)
The one when the terrified teenager panics during the song, followed by Mo Cheeks quickly stepping in to help out, then the crowd joining in and singing the last half of the song with them. One of the all-time great random sports moments, right? I’m convinced Cheeks will have a head coaching job for the rest of his life because of this clip, wins and losses be damned.

4. Carl Lewis (Nets game, 1993)
For years and years, it’s been like the Babe Ruth of the Unintentional Comedy Hall of Fame (one of the centerpieces of the original class of inductees) … and now it’s finally on YouTube! And the rockets … RED GLARE! If you click on that link, that’s actually the “Best SportsCenter bloopers of the past 20 years” segment (four rock-solid minutes of comedy) with the Lewis song running right in the middle. You will not be disappointed. And I will defend Charley Steiner for life after that brilliant “Francis Scott Off-Key” ad-lib.

3. Whitney Houston (Super Bowl XXV, 1991)
Widely considered the best “Star Spangled Banner” performance because of the singer (Whitney at her talented/gorgeous/likable apex, right around the time she made “The Bodyguard”), the circumstances (the Gulf War had just kicked off, so everyone was feeling especially patriotic) and the delivery (from a traditional standpoint, about as good as you’re ever getting). It’s hard to imagine a female singer ever belting out the anthem better than this. It’s also hard to believe how much Whitney’s stock has fallen over the past 20 years. Was she the Dwight Gooden of singers, or was he the Whitney Houston of pitchers? Did we ever figure that out?

(Note: There have always been rumors that Whitney lip-synched the performance, although I’ve always believed it was a Hollywood urban legend along the lines of Gene Siskel demanding to be buried with his thumb pointing up and Marisa Tomei winning an Oscar because Jack Palance read the wrong name. But if she DID lip-synch it … then that was the greatest lip-synching job of all-time.)

2. Edmonton Oilers fans (Game 3, Oilers-Ducks series, 2006)
A slight technicality because they’re singing the Canadian national anthem, but if your goose bumps aren’t getting goose bumps during this clip, then you might possibly be a cyborg. In fact, this was so outstanding on so many different levels, you might see me adopt the Oilers as my new hockey team and make an NHL comeback. How can you beat these fans? Seriously, how? Just an amazing clip. My favorite part is when they show the Ducks goalie laughing in sheer delight, like he’s thinking to himself, “Crap, why do I have to play in Anaheim?”

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