In the annals of the Great American Sports Songbook, a singular tune has reigned for more than three decades as the undisputed heavyweight champion of outré jock jams. “Sirius,” the spacey prelude to the Alan Parsons Project’s 1982 LP Eye in the Sky, first reached the ears of the basketball-viewing public in the late ’80s, as the unlikely musical linchpin of the Chicago Bulls’ starting-lineup introduction. Plucked out of relative obscurity by the team’s public address announcer, Tommy Edwards—originator of the famed call, “Aaaand now, the starting lineup for your Chicago Bulls!”—“Sirius” proved to be an inspired selection, transforming a ho-hum intro routine into a can’t-miss spectacle. At a time when most NBA clubs didn’t so much as play contemporary pop music in their stadiums, the Bulls’ pioneering game-operations crew managed, using little more than a spotlight in a loud, darkened arena, to create what would become the most potent and iconic pregame ritual in all of sports. It laid a foundation that eventually allowed 48 minutes of basketball to evolve into the two-hour-plus, wall-to-wall multimedia entertainment experience fans now enjoy at every arena.
What began as a desperate marketing stunt to fill seats at Chicago Stadium took on near-religious significance. Among the Bulls faithful, no introduction custom was more sacred than the goosebump-inducing announcement of their basketball god: “From North Carolina, at guard, 6-6, Michael Jordan!” With His Airness’s star in perpetual Jumpman-like ascent and national TV broadcasting the intro as the Bulls hoarded six championships in the ’90s, “Sirius” became a bona fide cultural phenomenon—not simply the soundtrack to one of the NBA’s most dominant dynasties, but a kind of sonic surrogate for sports triumph writ large. In ’95, “Sirius” appeared on the second volume of Tommy Boy Records’ Jock Rock series (sibling to the label’s Jock Jams compilations). It turned up in the introductions of other ’90s NBA teams, including the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs, who may have been hoping some of the Bulls’ title-winning mojo would rub off. Everyone from the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team to the New Orleans Saints at Super Bowl XLIV to the Melbourne Rebels rugby team to France’s tennis squad at the 2014 Davis Cup final have used “Sirius” as a walk-out theme. It has scored countless wedding-party entrances done in the style of the Bulls intro—some performed by the obliging Ray Clay, who took over the Bulls PA duties in the ’90s. Even Donald Trump milked “Sirius,” and its vague association with victory, at campaign rallies until the song was pulled at the request of the family of Eric Woolfson, the late cocreator of the Alan Parsons Project.
As for the Bulls, the starting-lineup introduction—steadily souped up with video, lighting, and sound effects—has been perhaps the most consistently enjoyable aspect of watching the team in the 20 years since Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson, Dennis Rodman, and other key dynasty builders fled en masse after the title-winning 1997-98 season. From the precipitous comedown of the Tim Floyd era to the boom-and-bust roller coaster of Derrick Rose’s tenure to the youthful but injury-plagued troops of today, the intro has served an essential role—as a memory bridge to happier times.
Part I: “You Gotta Entertain Them”
Tommy Edwards (Bulls public address announcer 1976-1981; 1983-1990; 2006-present): My day job was as a midday DJ on WLS radio. I’d be on the air from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., then I’d go over to the Chicago Stadium on game days, play pickup basketball on the court with some people who hung around the stadium, then I’d freshen up and call the game. After losing most of the ’76-77 season, my first year as PA announcer, the Bulls had some long winning streaks and had to win almost every game at the end of the season to sneak into the playoffs. We started getting much bigger crowds at home because the team was playing really well. There was a home game against the Houston Rockets [on April 8, 1977] that was an absolute must-win. When I got to the stadium that night, I was told by someone from the team’s front office: “We’re gonna turn the lights out and have a spotlight on the Bulls players during the introductions.” They had hired a special electrician to run the lights and everything. My only concern was having enough light to be able to read my script. As far as I know, that was the first time an NBA team had killed the lights during a lineup introduction. It made the game feel quite special and really showcased our players.
Tim Hallam (Bulls director of public and media relations, 1977-present): Jerry Sloan, the Bulls coach from ’79 to ’82—he didn’t like doing the lights-out introductions. He thought an intro like that actually fired up the other team.
David Brenner (Bulls director of promotions and corporate sales, 1983-1996): The Bulls of the early ’80s had been, more often than not, one of the worst teams in the NBA. Then, of course, they drafted Michael Jordan and the team’s fortunes changed dramatically. But during the transitional years, there were only a few teams in the league that would draw a good-sized crowd at Chicago Stadium: the Celtics, the Lakers, the 76ers—and the Pistons, who had Isiah Thomas, who was popular because he was from Chicago. We were reticent to turn off the house lights and do introductions with spotlights on the players when the seats were empty and there was no excitement in the building.
David Rosengard (Bulls vice president of marketing and broadcasting, 1984-1987): The fans that did come were arriving 15 to 20 minutes late to games. In a Bulls marketing-department meeting, we all agreed: We gotta get people in the seats earlier, get some energy in the building before the game.
Edwards: The extent of the stadium entertainment in those days was Benny the Bull, but he was not as polished as today’s Benny. We also had a heavyset fella named Jeff Platt, who wore a T-shirt that said “SUPER FAN.” He would run around, sort of like the bull of the stadium, waving a towel, and people would cheer. That was it.
Brenner: I remember at an NBA game-entertainment conference, the Celtics game-ops guy was asked, “What do you do during timeouts?” Like, did they play music at Boston Garden or what? This is when they had [Larry] Bird. He goes, “When the team makes a big run and a timeout is called, we just let the fans cheer.” It was a reminder that the no. 1 thing you can do to build excitement is have a great team. So what do you do when your team sucks?
Rosengard: My philosophy as a sports marketer always was: We’re in the entertainment business. We may not be able to control winning and losing, but we can control everything else. So we started to toy with different ideas. At a department meeting, I recalled being with my father in a pitch-black Chicago Stadium at the end of the ’76-77 season and witnessing a starting-lineup introduction with a spotlight on the players. I said, “Why don’t we start doing spotlight introductions? We’ll do it when the Bulls play Boston, L.A.—the bigger teams that draw large crowds when they come in—and before playoff games.” Someone said, “The building will never let you do that. It’s a fire hazard,” or who knows what. So I went to the gentleman who, for a long time, managed Chicago Stadium, a guy by the name of John Fett. He looked at me cross-eyed: “You can’t do that. The lights will take too long to come back on.”
Brenner: Fett and the stadium electricians—they were very nice people, but they didn’t like change, so they were always pissed off when we were asking them to do things. But killing the lights at Chicago Stadium was a legitimately dicey proposition.
Rosengard: We pushed and pushed and pushed. Fett finally had me come by one day when the electricians were at the stadium. We turned the lights out and he said, “See how long it takes for them to come back on?” I timed it—it was probably 35 seconds for the lights to come back and a good 90 seconds before they came back to full candlepower. Fett wasn’t happy, but he let us do it.
Brenner: Some of those early games with the spotlight introduction started with less-than-ideal lighting because of how long it took the stadium lights to regenerate. The electricians would turn the lights off and then had to start turning them on almost immediately.
Rosengard: One time we did a lights-out introduction when the Lakers came to town. Chick Hearn, the legendary Lakers play-by-play announcer, was on the air doing his pregame shtick when the stadium went dark for the Bulls introduction. He threw it to commercial and just went ballistic on me: “Whoever is responsible for these lights being out, I wanna see him! We need to talk!”
Edwards: Since the mid-’70s, all the music at Chicago Stadium had been supplied live by Nancy Faust, the legendary Chicago White Sox organist. But by the mid-’80s, the Bulls were interested in changing over to a recorded music system. I said, “I can help you design a tape-cartridge machine for the stadium—the same system that we use in the radio studio.” On these tape cartridges, I had brief musical interludes like the “Charge” fanfare, and during game breaks, I’d play contemporary music—“Rock and Roll Part 2” by Gary Glitter, “Wooly Bully,” songs by the Rolling Stones—and people would be bopping around in their seats. So now that I had a music-playing device, I started working on the player introductions, because I wanted to make them special. Back then it was just me saying, “And now, ladies and gentlemen, introducing the starting lineup of your Chicago Bulls. No. 53, Artis Gilmore” or whomever. I was not showcasing the players as much as I thought I could with contemporary musical accompaniment.
Rosengard: We were one of the earliest NBA teams that fully embraced not only the player introductions, but music during timeouts and between quarters, as well as crazy halftime acts. We brought in people who could dribble a gazillion balls at once. We did a pie-eating contest, a rib-eating contest. We were getting goofy, but we started to notice that word was getting out there.
Rick Telander (Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist, 1995-present; longtime Sports Illustrated contributor): People started coming to Bulls games for the spectacle. The halftime became a huge thing. Magic shows, tumblers, small circuses. They also realized that sound was incredibly important. When the game wasn’t going on, there was almost never a time that there wasn’t music playing. That was new. You didn’t want to get up, even during the breaks.
Brenner: The Bulls were as aggressive as any organization when it came to making an NBA game the entertainment product it is today. My ex-boss at the Bulls, Steve Schanwald, used to say, “The ball’s in play for 48 minutes, but fans are at the game for two hours and 15 minutes. What are they gonna do the rest of the time? You gotta entertain them.”
Part II: “Every Hero Needs a Soundtrack”
Edwards: In 1984, I got a phone call from the Bulls’ office during training camp. They told me that this rookie that they had drafted out of North Carolina, Michael Jordan, was nothing less than spectacular. They said, “We want you to come up with something new for the pregame introductions, because Michael Jordan’s gonna start, and we want him to be the last guy announced.” I experimented with various songs and settled on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Brenner: “Thriller” was really good as an intro theme. Tommy had the announcements timed well with the music. He did a nice job with it in Jordan’s rookie year.
Edwards: A couple months later, I came up with the announcement of the center. One night I said, “In the middle, from DePaul, 6-11, Dave Corzine!” Another time, I used “the man in the middle,” and on the way home from the game my 8-year-old daughter said she liked it. I’ve done it that way ever since.
Brenner: The excitement for the team was growing. When Jordan was in his second or third year, we decided we were going to make the spotlight intro our trademark and started turning the lights off at Chicago Stadium before every game.
Hallam: It wasn’t an immediate phenomenon, [as if] everybody in the crowd walked out of the first game going, “How about that intro!” It was a slow culmination of a lot of factors: an old building that was very, very loud; a fired-up fan base starved for a great basketball team; and one of the most exciting, marketable athletes ever in Michael Jordan. If we were introducing someone who was not of Jordan’s star status, the starting-lineup introduction may not even have taken off as a tradition. Because of Jordan, everything became special. The intro was just the icing on the cake.
Edwards: The introduction set to “Thriller” was fair. At one point, I also tried out the theme from Miami Vice. That was just OK. I was having trouble coming up with another song that was really special. One night, my wife, Mary Lou, and I went to a movie at the Biograph Theater. Before the movie started, the theater had some ambient music playing in the background. I leaned over to Mary Lou and said, “I know this song. It’s called ‘Sirius.’ It’s the instrumental opening to the Alan Parsons Project [album] Eye in the Sky,” which I’d remembered playing on WLS when it was released. I said, “Oh my god! This might be the theme to the Bulls intro.” The next day, I got the Eye in the Sky record and played “Sirius” over and over, practicing reading the starting lineup with the track. Then I called the Bulls and said, “I think I found the song.”
Brenner: Tommy played us “Sirius” and everyone in the office agreed it matched an introduction of the players beautifully. But we were concerned that it wasn’t a household song, like “Thriller” or the Miami Vice theme. On the other hand, we loved having something unique. When you work in game entertainment, you hope that you find one thing that everyone will remember as being yours. You live for that. The Cubs had it with the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch. The Blackhawks pioneered the use of a foghorn after goals. We were hoping the Bulls had found a similar tradition with the intro.
Edwards: At WLS, I had one of the station’s engineers dub “Sirius” from record to cartridge. The next game at Chicago Stadium, I put the cart in the machine, the lights went out, and I did the whole, “Aaaand now, the starting lineup for your Chicago Bulls!” When I announced Michael—“Frooommm North Carolina!”—the guitar solo came in real loud and the crowd went crazy. Nobody could hear me say “Michael Jordan.” It all worked so perfectly. Someone from the Bulls came running over and said, “I love that. I love that. Keep that.” Alan Parsons composed a beautiful piece of music that just happened to fit what we needed.
Alan Parsons (cofounder of the Alan Parsons Project): A sports anthem was the farthest thing from my mind when I conceived “Sirius.” I was working in my little office in Northwest London, using an early sampler called the Fairlight CMI. A keyboard instrument called the clavinet had been sampled into the Fairlight so that I could play a certain sequence and loop it. Then I discovered that the clavinet loop would work with a number of different major chords. It was a strong intro for the Eye in the Sky album, but I never saw it as anything to do with sports.
Telander: Everyone would always say, “What’s that song?” [Imitates the main clavinet figure of “Sirius.”] Doo-doo-doo-doo doo-doo-doo-doo—that kinda spacey thing. Then you’d hear this low roar of the crowd, like this audible awe, that you felt was transporting you somewhere else. The hair on your arms would rise and stand straight up. It seemed to tap into some human desire for sonic crescendo, like the Beatles song “A Day in the Life,” where the orchestra keeps swirling up and up and up. It was spectacular and made you want to show up to the game early—this was not L.A., where people were notorious for arriving late.
Steve Schanwald (Bulls executive vice president of business operations, 1987-2015): The whole production raised the hair on the back of my neck. The only thing I can take credit for is having the wisdom early in my tenure with the Bulls to not change a thing.
Chuck Swirsky (Bulls public address announcer, 1981-1982): Professional basketball, really, is great theater. The players are actors on a big stage. The music and the darkened arena and the spotlight of the Bulls introduction put all of that into perspective. It was also a stroke of genius from the game-ops department because it brought in the fans, whipped them into a frenzy, and then turned them loose. I actually think it intimidated some visiting clubs, who were forced to pay witness to this fever pitch at Chicago Stadium. The noise level was awesome, in the true sense of that word.
Cheryl Raye-Stout (Chicago sports radio reporter and producer, 1979-present): You could almost feel the crowd’s roar more than you heard it. You could feel the energy that the players enjoyed as the song built to the crescendo—the announcement of Michael Jordan. And you could see the opposing team looking up, watching. I’m not certain that they felt deflated, but they knew it was an explosive way to begin a game. It was like plugging the home team into an electric socket.
Edwards: I also wanted a song with some energy to introduce the visiting team. I told Bulls management, “People come out to see the stars—both the guys who play for the Bulls and the great players on the opposing team, like Dr. J, Magic, and Kareem. I want to make sure there’s a certain amount of respect given to these guys when I introduce them.” The Bulls said, “That’s all well and good, but make sure the big-time energy comes when you introduce the Bulls players.” I said, “Oh, absolutely.” So I started using the Pink Floyd instrumental “On the Run” from Dark Side of the Moon, which I had used at the radio station as a music bed for call-in contests. The song just sounded unusual. There’s an anxiety in it, almost like the opposing players are part of a malevolent force coming for our team. It amped up the anticipation, the buildup to the Bulls starting-lineup introduction.
Schanwald: When Tommy first started playing “Sirius” while introducing the starting lineup, the stands at Chicago Stadium weren’t exactly full. ... A lot of games the stands were only half full—even in Michael Jordan’s third season! But beginning in November 1987, we began a sellout streak that lasted 13 years and more than 600 games. And, of course, the introduction, combined with the sellout crowds, helped to enhance the experience of the game, because it added to the energy in the building. When the intro happens in a stadium that’s half full, it’s still good, but it’s nowhere near as effective as when it’s done in front of a stadium jam-packed with people up to the rafters.
Robert “Scoop” Jackson (Chicago-based ESPN contributor, 2005-present): The way “Sirius” was played in the stadium, it made every game so damn dramatic—even if you were watching at home. And very rarely does live spectacle translate to television. Usually on TV, the sharp edges of the live experience get sanded down. But the televised Bulls introduction was one of the few things that gave you a very good feel of what it was like to actually be there. That’s a testament to the power of that intro.
Edwards: I started hearing from other teams: “What’s the name of that song you used in the introduction?” I’d tell them it was “Sirius,” and it wouldn’t be long before we started hearing it played at NBA games, college games, high school games.
Rosengard: At the annual NBA marketing meetings in the offseason, different teams would present. So maybe the Sacramento Kings would share a really neat group-sales initiative. Oftentimes people in charge of game entertainment for other teams asked us about the Bulls intro and “Sirius” and how we did what we did.
Telander: When I was traveling around the country, writing for Sports Illustrated and following the Bulls on the road, I started to notice other stadiums adopting introductions that were pretty impressive. But when the final name you announce is, say, Reggie Miller, it’s just not quite the same as saying “Michael Jordan.”
Schanwald: So many teams have tried to come up with something with as much appeal. Some even stole the song for a short period of time. But I don’t think any team ever came up with an anthem that quite matched “Sirius” by the Alan Parsons Project.
Parsons: I was living in the U.K. and don’t follow basketball, so it took a couple of years for word to trickle through: “Did you know the Chicago Bulls are using ‘Sirius’ as their walk-on music?” It didn’t register as being a monumental thing. At that time I probably did not even know who Michael Jordan was. The infuriating thing is everybody thinks, “Parsons must be raking in the cash.” But the simple fact of the matter is that when a song is played over a PA system at a stadium, it gets lumped in with the general license fee that the venue has to pay to BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. So, no, the Bulls have not made me rich. I probably get a few cents each time it’s used. However, I do love how the team uses “Sirius.” I think it works very well in the introduction.
Jackson: I believe it was Keenen Ivory Wayans in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka who said, “Every hero needs a soundtrack.” Well, “Sirius” became the soundtrack to Michael Jordan’s Bulls becoming basketball superheroes.
Part III: “He’s a Yeller, a Shrieker, Not an Announcer”
Edwards: Unfortunately, I missed the championship years. In March of 1990, I left my gig as the Bulls PA announcer and took a job as the program director of a CBS-owned radio station in Boston. I helped make that the no. 1 station among adults 25 to 54, so CBS said, “We’re transferring you out to Los Angeles to fix a station out there.” That was 1992, and I was out in L.A. for 14 years or so. Before my last game with the Bulls in ’90, they did a tribute to me. I announced the starting lineup from center court, and as each player came out, Michael being last, we shook hands and they wished me luck.
Ray Clay (Bulls public address announcer, 1990-2002): My wife and I were driving to a wedding and had the Bulls game on the radio—I had to listen to the starting lineups like everybody wanted to do at that point. The broadcaster mentioned that it was Tommy Edwards’s final game. My wife said, “That’d be a neat job. Why don’t you call the Bulls and see if they’re interested in giving you an audition?” I said, “I’d never get a job like that. But I’ll call.” A guy I happened to know at the Bulls said, “Send in a tape.” At that time, I worked as the campus recreation director at the University of Illinois at Chicago. So I sent a cassette of some UIC basketball games that I’d called, including the starting-lineup introductions. A couple days later, I got a call from the Bulls: “What are you doing Friday? We’d like you to call the game.” That was my audition.
I was very nervous, having never announced a professional game before. I got to Chicago Stadium early and looked at the script book, which laid out the game with which activities were going to happen during the timeouts, announcements, pregame, during game, halftime, postgame. The Bulls rep said to me, “We’re gonna do the starting lineups. When the lights go out and the music starts, I’ll cue you when to go.” I said, “Yeah, but wait—the lights go out.” I had everything written down on a sheet of paper! This made me even more nervous. So the lights went out, the music started, the guy gave me a nudge and said, “Go.” I blurted out, “Aaaand now, the starting lineup for your Chicago Bulls!” The Bulls were touting Chicago Stadium as the noisiest arena in the NBA at that time, so I figured that I needed to give a good yell. That’s how my high-volume signature started.
Brenner: Ray Clay—great voice, great person, but he didn’t have the broadcast experience that Tommy did, where you could just throw him in front of a microphone and he could nail it. He had a lot to learn.
Clay: A team rep called to ask if I was available to come to the Bulls’ office downtown. They had put together a cassette tape of Tommy Edwards introducing Horace Grant, then me introducing Horace Grant. Tommy introducing Scottie Pippen, then me introducing Scottie Pippen. And so on. They said, “Put more emphasis on the ace in ‘Horace’ instead of the hor.” They wanted to make sure that I emphasized “the man in the middle” for Bill Cartwright. “Don’t worry about Michael Jordan,” they said. “Nobody can hear you anyway.” So I took all their notes and announced a second game. Later, I got a phone call: “We’d like you to come back and announce the final home game of the ’89-90 regular season.” When I got to the stadium, a couple sportswriters I knew said, “Jeez, Ray, you’re back.” I go, “I’m sure the Bulls are gonna bring in somebody else for the playoffs.” About 10 minutes later, Les Grobstein, one of the radio guys I knew, said, “Hey, Ray, they just announced that you’re the new PA announcer.” The Bulls had made an announcement in the press room while I was doing pregame announcements. A Bulls rep came up to me shortly thereafter and said, “Oh, Ray, by the way, congratulations—we’re gonna keep you on.”
Brenner: There were some growing pains at first. There are just certain things you have to call in a certain way during a game, and Ray didn’t yet know all of those. But he learned really quickly and the growing pains didn’t last long. I was on a headset with him during games and would help him make calls more dramatically for the Bulls—to use emotion and inflection at the right times to get the crowd more into the game. He became great at it.
Clay: After the last game of the ’89-90 playoffs, when we lost to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight year, everybody on the Bulls was saying, “I have a feeling that next year is gonna be special, that this team is gonna push it over the top.” And they did.
Edwards: Honestly, it was tough for me to watch Bulls games in the ’90s. On the one hand, I was excited because I’m an enormous Bulls fan. I’d send notes from Boston and Los Angeles back to the front-office guys: “I watched that game. God, you guys are playing great!” When the Bulls would come to L.A. to play the Lakers at the Forum, I’d go to the game and say hello to John Paxson, Steve Schanwald, [Bulls general manager] Jerry Krause, and all of my friends from the team. But on the other hand, it was tough watching another announcer doing what was essentially my introduction call. Especially when the Bulls were winning championships, I wanted to be a part of it so badly.
Schanwald: The local TV stations that aired our games always wanted to carry the introductions live. That became a huge part of the show. And once the national networks started airing Bulls games, it just really caught on. Ray had the great good fortune of having great timing and being the guy whose voice was heard during the Bulls’ run of six championships.
Jay Mariotti (Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist, 1991-2008): As the Jordan phenomenon resonated around the planet, Bulls telecasts became more available in, say, Europe—including the pregame introduction. That’s how Clay’s “Aaaand now!” became such a part of the Jordan culture. And why Clay himself unwittingly became a celebrity. I was covering the ’92 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, where there was a gigantic Jordan mural on the side of a building. I had come off the street and was asking directions at a hotel desk. I identified myself to the person there, and the next thing I knew, we were having a discussion about Jordan, Chicago, the introduction, and the song.
Edwards, speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times in 1992: Any time we’ve gotten a Bulls home game on TV out here [in Los Angeles], whether it’s NBC or cable, just as the Bulls introduction sequence starts, I make some lame excuse to my wife and kids and leave the family room until the intros are over. I get as far away from the sound on the TV set as possible, but not so far that I can’t be back for the opening tip. A lot of times I just go to the bathroom and run water until I know that the stadium lights are back on. I still have the timing of the Bulls’ introduction down to a millisecond.
Clay: TV producers got hooked on the introductions. So I tried to play the intro up, making it as loud as I could, because we were the noisiest arena in the NBA. The “from North Carolina” was there, but I put emphasis in places to make it a little bit more dramatic: “Frrrooom NORTH Caro-LINA!” Whereas Tommy did it a little more straight.
Edwards, speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times in 1992: As for Clay, I find the way he uses his voice more annoying than enhancing. He’s a yeller, a shrieker, not an announcer. He doesn’t seem to understand that in a large venue like the stadium, a place with acoustics of a kettle drum, you have to use the inflection in your voice as an accent device rather than shout in an attempt to produce what comes across as a highly artificial sense of excitement. I guess it comes down to the reality that what’s needed now is less Ray and less volume, but a better sound mix. Beyond that, I also was kind of hoping that whoever succeeded me would come up with his own presentation and just let mine be a pleasant memory of a special-occasion-only kind of thing.
Clay: Tommy probably really didn’t want to give up his Bulls PA gig, seeing that the team was just starting to become successful. If he’d stayed, he would’ve been the one to have gotten the notoriety.
Edwards: I was asked a number of times to come back to the Bulls. I’d get phone calls asking, “Is there any way that you could come back to Chicago and take over public address again for the Bulls?” This was during the championship years. And I’d say, “I would love to, but my first concern is to provide for my family, and right now my income is coming from radio.”
Raye-Stout: Ray Clay has gotten a lot more notoriety than Tommy, because he was around during the championship years. Anything done during the Jordan era is always going to have the bigger spotlight. That’s not taking anything away from Ray. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Clay: I say it all the time—I was the right guy in the right place at the right time. Now everyone says to me, “Oh, you’re Ray Clay. You’re the guy who started the Bulls’ starting-lineup introduction.” And I have to say, “I really didn’t. It was Tommy Edwards.”
Part IV: “It Was Like Giving Spinach to Popeye”
Brenner: Phil Jackson took over as the Bulls head coach in 1989. Phil hated the stuff we did at Chicago Stadium on the game-entertainment side. He just hated it. He was always coming over to me on the sideline and yelling at me to turn the music down.
B.J. Armstrong (Bulls guard, 1989-1995): When I came to the Bulls as a rookie in ’89, everyone in Chicago knew what the sound of “Sirius” meant, but it was not yet a national phenomenon. The Bulls had an obviously great young player in Michael Jordan but hadn’t won any championships, so we were playing, for the most part, for our local market. Back then, the Bulls’ intro didn’t have the big digital Jumbotron, the videos, the crazy lights. I don’t remember there even being heat in Chicago Stadium.
Horace Grant (Bulls power forward, 1987-1994), speaking to the Chicago Tribune in 1991: It’s not that I see the spotlight. It’s more that I feel it. You really can feel it. It’s warm. That’s how you know that the man who runs the spotlight has found you in the darkness. You can feel the heat. It’s a welcoming feel.
Scott Williams (Bulls center, 1990-1994): The acoustics were so bad in old Chicago Stadium. It was built in the 1920s, so the sound didn’t move about as nicely as it did in some of the more modern arenas. The crowd noise just bounced off the ceiling and came back down to the floor. It felt as though your brain was rattling inside your head.
Scottie Pippen (Bulls small forward, 1987-1998, 2003-04), speaking to the Chicago Tribune in 1991: It’s so loud every night that you would never believe that it could get louder. But once the playoffs started, it really did get louder. I don’t understand how.
Will Perdue (Bulls center, 1988-1995, 1999-2000): Our first home preseason game in my rookie year, I remember going through the pregame warm-ups. Then, all of a sudden, the lights went out. I just watched in awe. The last guy introduced was M.J., and all I heard was, “From North Carolina!” Everything else got drowned out by applause. I got goosebumps.
Michael Jordan (Bulls shooting guard, 1984-1993, 1995-1998), speaking to the Chicago Tribune in 1991: I’ve never heard a word after “Carolina.” It gives me chills, every time. You hope people respect you, but for that immediate moment you know that they do. I think they stand up when I come out. I can’t see very much in the darkness, but I think they’re standing up. The sense of respect that I get from the people. ... I get chill bumps. Sometimes I’m misty-eyed, and it doesn’t have anything to do with whether it’s a big game or not. I’ve thought about why I get misty-eyed on those nights, and I don’t really know. It will just happen. And at the same time, it’s a little embarrassing—to have the spotlight on you. It would be for anyone. I’m not talking about what people usually mean when they say “in the spotlight.” That usually means that you’re in the public eye. I’m used to that. But during the introduction, it’s a real spotlight. For that moment, it’s just the light on you. I think anyone would be a little self-conscious about that. When I’m out there and I’m hearing that noise, I look up toward where the noise is coming from, and I always think the same thing. Even though I can’t see many of the people, I think that for some of them this may be the only time they’re going to be there. They’ve never had a ticket before, and they may not have one again, and this is the one night for them. I think about that.
Telander: Michael Jordan once told me Chicago Stadium gave the Bulls a five- to 10-point advantage. Did the intro factor in? Oh, hell yeah! The other team had to stand there and watch: “Now, in this corner, the reigning champion!” It was like ancient Rome, with the Bulls as the lions and the opposing team as the Christians just there to be sacrificed. If you weren’t slightly intimidated by that, knowing what this team was, then you didn’t have emotions. The visitors had to be thinking: “Why isn’t my team’s stadium doing something like this?”
Williams: There was something magical about that come-out production. They killed the lights, that song kicked on, the spotlight hit the court, the cheerleaders shook the old-school pom-poms, Benny the Bull did his thing to get everyone all fired up—that was the stuff, man! We felt like rock stars standing on stage, like we were Michael Jackson or the Rolling Stones. It motivated you to play at your best.
Chip Schaefer (Bulls head athletic trainer, 1990-1998; director of sports performance, 2016-present): The introduction is a wonderful prelude to that evening’s play, in which the Bulls take the role of heroes and the visiting athletes happen to be playing the villains. Between an audience and the performers on a stage—whether they are actors or athletes—there’s a reciprocal relationship. The crowd gives the athletes energy, and the athletes give the crowd energy. And the Bulls’ intro is the building of that bond to an almost climactic level.
Perdue: The first time I was introduced as “the man in the middle,” I ran out at a different level. I always had to calm myself down after the introduction, but especially after that first time. Once Michael was announced, the starters always got together in a circle. All of a sudden, I was in that hallowed group of five. That was meaningful, because regardless of what any player says about playing his role on a team, there is always a little separation between the guys who start and the guys who come off the bench.
Bill Cartwright (Bulls center, 1988-1994), speaking to the Chicago Tribune in 1991: Do you know when it helps you the most? If you ever come to the game lacking energy. The introduction, and that noise, gets it back for you. No question about it.
Jackson: The Bulls, without question, used that intro as an intimidation factor against other teams. It was like giving spinach to Popeye. The bigger the game was, the bigger the song would play, the louder the announcer’s voice would be, the more energy the audience would have. Knowing how competitive Michael always was, he probably lined some pockets during the playoffs, like, “Make sure this one is extra.” His mind-set was for the Bulls to use everything they had, especially against the Pistons and the Knicks. You’ve heard stories about how Red Auerbach used to turn off the heat in the visitors locker room of the Boston Garden in the winter and crank the heat in the summer? Well, the Bulls used the intro a similar way. It was yet another thing an opposing team had to deal with in the Bulls’ house.
Armstrong: People loved to speculate that the introduction contributed to home-court advantage—but they seem to forget we were a pretty great team outside of Chicago Stadium. If a theme song or an introduction was gonna be the X factor, every team would’ve come up with a song. I’m sure Magic Johnson and the other players we were going up against didn’t feel one way or another because of that intro.
Williams: When I came back to play in Chicago as a member of the Sixers, some of the younger guys that I was playing alongside had idolized Michael Jordan when they were kids. So when Ray Clay got on the mic, I’d look into my teammates’ eyes and could tell they were thinking, “We’re in trouble.” You knew the first few minutes were going to be hell, that the Bulls were going to come out of that gate hard and fast. You just hoped you didn’t get down by so much that you couldn’t recover.
Edwards: My son was a ball boy for the Bulls for nine seasons. He’d rebound for the visiting team and then stand around with them during the intro. A number of times he overheard players saying, “Oh my god, I love this!” and “God, this is so cool!”
Perdue: As a player, I used to get four tickets for every game. I would always tell friends who were getting the tickets: “Make sure you get there early, so you can see the introduction.” Inevitably some of them would get stuck in traffic on the way to the stadium and would tell me later, “Sorry we were late and missed the introduction.” I was like, “Apologize to yourself.” I live in Louisville part-time now, and I like to compare the Bulls intro to the Kentucky Derby bugler playing right before the race starts. It gets everybody’s attention and the crowd goes crazy.
John Paxson (Bulls point guard, 1985-1994), speaking to the Chicago Tribune in 1991: Amazingly, it never gets old. I’ve been seeing it and hearing it every night for years, and the feeling never wears off. It’s hard to articulate—the emotional level just rises. I look in the stands to see if my little boy is standing up. He’s four and half years old, and he comes to see us a lot. I know where he sits, and I try to find him. He and I do the introductions at home—we turn the lights off in the living room, and he pretends he’s all the players. I bet there’s a lot of houses in Chicago where that goes on.
Telander: Watching Bulls games at our house—we had one of those early big-ass TVs that I’d bought on five or six years of credit and had speakers hooked up to it. We’d all go into the TV room, turn out the lights, turn on the introductions, and the kids would go crazy. Everyone would recite all the players’ names and “the man in the middle” along with Ray Clay. You hated when it ended and the lights came up.
Williams: There were a couple of teams in the ’90s that had copied the Bulls by using the intro music in their own introduction, or using it to get the crowd pumped up while the team was coming out of a timeout and needed to get a big play. It was always like, “Hey, they’re playing our song!” They didn’t realize it was pumping us up too. Even though they had the right song, they still couldn’t duplicate the insanely loud atmosphere of Chicago Stadium and later the United Center. The Bulls’ version was just a tough act to follow and impossible to replicate.
Armstrong: The introduction was great—but only because we were winning. An introduction by itself wasn’t anything special. What made ours special was the team’s success.
Brenner: When we moved into United Center for the ’94-95 season, that was the year Jordan [didn’t return until March]. The energy level wasn’t the same—during the introductions as well as during the games. When you work in game entertainment, you’re trying to build excitement, but there’s only so much you can do if the product isn’t inherently exciting.
Clay: Back at Chicago Stadium, the old 256 dot matrix scoreboard allowed us only to flash an image of the Bulls logo and the names of the players during the intro. Suddenly at the United Center, we had the ability to add digital video.
Schanwald: We partnered with a creative house to make the “Running of the Bulls” starting-lineup video, which ended up being a kind of animation. I had this vision of a stampeding herd of bulls running through the skyscraper canyons of Chicago’s downtown streets, under the elevated train tracks, and past various iconic landmarks, like the Picasso statue and the bronze lions guarding the Art Institute. I imagined the stampeding bulls eyeing the opposing team’s bus parked beside the Jordan statue in front of the United Center and then running headlong into it.
Brenner: In my opinion, the video didn’t add much to the introductions. In some ways it might’ve detracted from the intro. Sometimes enough is enough, and you shouldn’t tinker with something that’s really special. New isn’t always better.
Perdue: The introduction before the very first United Center home game after Jordan came out of retirement in ’95 gave me goosebumps. You got the feeling you were going to look up in the stands and fans were going to be crying. It was like the Second Coming.
Schaefer: After an almost two-year hiatus of not being part of the introduction, Michael missed that connection between himself and the fans in the arena.
Perdue: Coming back to the United Center after I was traded to San Antonio—the lights went down, the intro music started up, and that’s really when it sank in all that had been taken away from me in the trade. It made me a little sad. The intro was something that I’d started to take for granted. When was I playing in San Antonio and later Portland—I don’t want to say the introductions in those cities weren’t good, but I definitely got spoiled having started my career in Chicago.
Darren Prince (president and CEO of Prince Marketing Group; Dennis Rodman’s agent): The Bulls intro always got your adrenaline going. But there was nothing like experiencing it during the championship run of that ’95-96 team that went 72-10.
Dennis Rodman (Bulls forward, 1995-1998): Coming to the Bulls, I understood that Chicago didn’t want the Bad Boy villain from Detroit. But once fans saw Michael and Scottie and Phil embrace me, I think they forgave and forgot. After that, I think I got more applause than Michael when I was announced. Chicago was telling me, after watching the Bulls lose two consecutive years in the Eastern Conference semifinals, “We finally got the missing piece.”
Prince: Michael had already been on the team for a decade at that point. He was already the king. Dennis was the outcast, but the fans took to him so quickly. When the announcer said, “From Southeastern Oklahoma State,” the United Center would vibrate. You could feel the stadium shake. It was magical.
Rodman: Experiencing that introduction from both sides—as a player for the Pistons and then the Bulls—was amazing. Whenever the lights went out and that song popped on, it was like, “Goddamn!” Every time, like you’d never experienced it before. Even as a Piston that intro got me hyped. I was like, “Wow! This ain’t Detroit.” In Detroit, we had “The Final Countdown.” But it was more, like, bland. And then once I got to the Bulls, that intro put me in such a zone. Whenever that first low chord would drop in the song, it would boost me to another level. I’d say, “Oh, damn! We gotta do this, brother. We gotta win.” I couldn’t wait to get out there, like it was the first time I’d ever played.
Steve Kerr (Bulls point guard, 1993-1999): The Alan Parsons Project song, combined with Ray Clay’s voice, and the familiarity everybody had with it, the fans and the players, and then the fact that it would reach a crescendo when he introduced Michael Jordan last—what a way to start a game! It was perfect. It totally would get our adrenaline going. I think it got everybody’s adrenaline going—the opposing team too. I came in as an opponent for many years, watching that exact intro, and the music is so perfect, and then you just hear Ray say, “From North Carolina!”—and you couldn’t hear anything after that. It felt like a heavyweight bout, with everybody beyond excited for what was to come.
Rodman: You’d never seen a more odd bunch of guys in your life: me, Michael, Scottie, Ron Harper, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc—we all lived very different lives, but we came together, united by that intro song. In Chicago, you’d hear DJs play that song in the clubs. Whenever I hear it today, it still gives me those little chills. Damn, that shit was awesome, man.
Part V: “The Only Thing Bulls Fans Knew Was Gonna Be Good”
Telander: Everything from 1998 on was a mess. The Bulls went in the tank. It was very, very intertwined with drama between Phil Jackson and Jerry Krause. Michael, Scottie, and Dennis Rodman left.
Raye-Stout: During the Tim Floyd era, the introduction was probably the only thing Bulls fans knew was gonna be good.
Telander: Attendance at the United Center didn’t totally drop off, and I can guarantee one of the reasons was because of the introduction. Still, it wasn’t the same. “At guard, Rusty LaRue!” Just awful.
Mariotti: Remember some of those starting lineups? It was farcical. [Bulls owner] Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause always had spoken publicly about creating their own, ahem, dynasty. But it was obvious quickly that Jordan and Pippen had poisoned the franchise and scared away free agents. No sports dynasty ever crashed as suddenly and ignominiously as the Jordan dynasty. And there was Ray Clay, expected to rev up with that same energy every night. He tried his best.
Clay: In January of 2002, Michael Jordan was coming back to the United Center for the first time as a member of the Washington Wizards. [Sportswriter] J.A. Adande asked me, “How are you going to introduce him?” I said, “I assume the Bulls are gonna announce Michael Jordan how they always announce Michael Jordan.” But I hadn’t heard anything official. Adande went and talked to my boss, Steve Schanwald, and told him, “I hear from Ray that when Michael comes to town, you’re gonna announce him like you always announce Michael.” Schanwald was taken aback and came up to me and said, “We’re going to announce Michael Jordan like every other visitor and you shouldn’t say anything to anybody.” I said, “OK.” Well, Jay Mariotti, who was then a sports columnist for the Sun-Times, hears about this, and I get a phone call from him: “How come you can’t announce Michael how you want to announce him?” I said, “Jay, it’s not my call. I was told we’re going to announce him like a visitor.” So Mariotti writes a column, then I get a call from Schanwald: “What are you doing talking to the press?” I said, “I told him exactly what you wanted me to say.” “Well,” he said, “you’re not supposed to talk to the press.” Everybody in the world wanted to hear Michael Jordan announced like Michael Jordan should be announced except for a couple people at the Bulls. When the game finally came around, I said [flatly], “At forward, from North Carolina, 6-6, Michael Jordan,” which is how I announced all the visitors.
But the damage was done. I had said something that I shouldn’t have said. And I paid the price.
Schanwald: We’ll just leave it at this: Ray was let go. I don’t wanna get into the reasons. I don’t wanna go there. That’s ancient history. No need to dredge that up.
Mariotti: It happened. Given the choice of believing Ray Clay or Chicago Bulls management, I believe Ray Clay. Given the choice of believing Pinocchio or Chicago Bulls management, I believe Pinocchio. There’s a reason this dysfunctional franchise hasn’t done shit since Jordan left—management.
Clay: When the Wizards came to town the next season, Steve Scott, who took over public address after me, introduced Michael in the classic way that Michael was always introduced. “Wow,” I thought, “what a difference a year makes!”
These days former Bulls players such as Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose have returned to the United Center as visitors and they’ve been welcomed back with tribute videos. Times certainly do change.
Parsons: The Bulls have actually never invited me to a game. That would be nice. But I did meet Michael Jordan once, at a reception for his IMAX movie [Michael Jordan to the Max], for which the filmmakers licensed some sort of remix of “Sirius” for use. I shook Jordan’s hand and said, “Hi, Michael. I’m Alan Parsons. I wrote the music to the Bulls’ walk-on.” And he said, “Nice to meet you, man,” and walked away. I don’t think it registered with him who I was.
Clay: After I was finished with the Bulls, I got a call in 2003 from the Philadelphia 76ers: “Michael Jordan’s coming to town with the Wizards for his last ever game. It would be great to have you come and introduce him.” So Philly flew me out and kept me hidden during pregame while the teams warmed up. The 76ers PA announcer, Matt Cord, announced the other guys in the Wizards’ starting lineup. When it was time for Michael, I went out to center court and did the whole “From North Carolina!” shtick. Michael ran up to me, gave me a big hug, and said, “Thanks. That was a great send-off.”
Schanwald: Being introduced last, where Michael was always introduced, has become one of the greatest honors the Bulls can bestow upon any one player. That was passed down in recent years to the likes of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler.
Raye-Stout: Derrick embraced the whole Bulls experience. He’s a Chicago native, grew up watching the ’90s Bulls, and suddenly he was being introduced in the star-player slot, the same slot as Michael Jordan. It meant a lot to him.
Schanwald: Our introductions definitely became the envy of the league. And then, of course, other teams started to do more with music and lights and even pyrotechnics. Some teams even tried to use “Sirius.” But it was so closely identified with us that after a few plays they were a little embarrassed and tried to find their own song.
Edwards: My son played basketball at Lake Forest High School [in Chicago] and at the College of Lake County [in Illinois], and they both used “Sirius” for the introductions.
Clay: I’ve heard from announcers who do high school and college games: “We do the intro just like you did it.”
Parsons: The New Orleans Saints walked on to “Sirius” at the Super Bowl in 2010, the year they won it.
Brenner: What’s the saying? Often imitated, never duplicated. So many have tried and failed because of a million factors, but mostly due to the team we had, the fan base, and the building that we played in.
Michelle McComas (Bulls director of entertainment and events, 2013-present): If other teams want to use “Sirius” to try to replicate a championship feeling, I guess we’re flattered.
Clay: Everybody who grew up with the 1990s Bulls started to get married within the last five to seven years. Many of them think, “I’ll announce my wedding party to ‘Sirius’ in the style of the Bulls starting-lineup introduction.” I’ve done quite a few. People track me down, and I oblige when I can. I send them a sample script, and they fill in the names of their wedding party. Some wedding parties come out in Bulls jerseys or spinning basketballs or doing choreographed high-fives.
Schanwald: Weddings, bar mitzvahs—the Bulls intro has become a part of the culture.
Perdue: I play an annual golf tournament at a course in Louisville. My friends always throw a party—and eventually, once these guys have had a few beverages, they’ll play the intro song. Somebody will grab a microphone and do a fake introduction. They all think it’s funny. I get a chuckle out of it too. And, yeah, they’re kind of spoofing me—but everybody gets the reference. That tells you how much of a cultural phenomenon that introduction has become.
Rodman: I do appearances, meet-and-greets, casino events, corporate talks—and every time I’m called up to the stage, they play the Bulls intro song. I go around the world, and every emcee still says, “Aaaand now!”
Schanwald: There are some things in life that you can’t improve upon. But as technology has advanced and special effects in Hollywood have improved, the Bulls, quite wisely, have attempted to keep up, updating the introductions and the video produced to go with it. There have been a few iterations of the “Running of the Bulls” video—in 1997, 2001, and 2005. The Wachowskis, the filmmakers behind The Matrix, were Bulls fans and season-ticket holders and they offered their services. They came to us with the thought that they could improve upon what we had. Of course, we were intrigued and delighted. The Wachowskis’ version premiered in 2006 and was replaced in 2014.
McComas: For the current version of the intro video, which premiered in the 2014-15 season, we worked with Hollywood production designers and directors Alex McDowell and Jesse Dylan to create a sort of superhero film using the most innovative technology. We also worked with Rhythm & Hues, the visual effects company whose credits include Life of Pi and The Hunger Games, to do things like have the bulls run down the side of the Chicago Board of Trade Building. It’s like, “What can we do to make this moment even more special?”
Edwards: The Bulls are always coming up with something new, something exciting to add to the starting-lineup program, whether it be lasers or floor projections, some of which blow me away. Personally, I just want to make sure that “Sirius” is always the major focal point. Because, obviously, you want people to remember the championships.
McComas: Our fans have come to expect “Sirius” in the intro. It makes them feel like they’re part of something special. And for that reason, I think, “Sirius” will always stay.
Swirsky: Even during the bad years, the losing years, the spectacle of the introduction is this nice nod to the glory years. It carries with it a sense of history, a sense of connection, a sense of tradition.
Telander: If they ever do significantly change the intro, there will be an uprising in Chicago.
Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors point guard, 2009-present), speaking in a postgame press conference at the United Center, in January 2016: Me and Draymond [Green] were stretching on the scorer’s table before the game. And when you hear the intro song, that anthem, it brings back a lot of memories of the Jordan Bulls teams. It brings back some goosebumps.
Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors power forward, 2012-present), speaking in a postgame press conference at the United Center, in January 2016: I don’t know what that song is called. I call it “the Jordan song.” When I hear it, I think Michael Jordan. “No. 23, Michael Jordan” about to be said. So that’s what the song is to me. I looked at Steph, and I’m just like, “Yo.” And he was like, “Man, every time.” That song gets me every time. It’s always fun to come and play here. When you hear that, I think back to those days of watching Jordan, watching Space Jam, all that stuff.
Jackson: The intro still puts the fans and players in the mind of being a part of Michael Jordan’s legacy. People still walk away feeling that they’re somehow connected to Michael Jordan—that they were part of the Michael Jordan experience.
Edwards: During the introduction, the lights are out—but amid the darkness, there’s enough ambient light that I can still see the faces of the players. And I can tell they’re really enjoying it. This tradition tells them, “This is the court where Michael Jordan won championships. This is his court. You’re in a special place.”
Jake Malooley is a writer and editor based in Chicago. After he and his wife were married last year, their wedding party was introduced in the style of the Bulls starting-lineup intro.