Ten tribute songs to athletes for fans of every sport

Sometimes music and sports can work well and when it does it is pure magic.
Venus Williams at Wimbledon 2008
Venus Williams at Wimbledon 2008 / Simon M Bruty/GettyImages
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“DID YOU SEE JACKIE ROBINSON HIT THAT BALL by the Count Basie Orchestra (1949)

According to the Library of Congress, four different songs about Jackie Robinson filed for copyright in the two years after he integrated baseball in 1947. The best-known was written by pianist Buddy Johnson. Johnson and his band recorded it in 1949 and they do a decent job. But at almost the exact same time, Count Basie got ahold of it and did it better.

Splashy horns open the proceedings, and then we hear the cheers of a crowd. Next comes the chorus, chanted out by the whole band. “Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball – It went zoomin cross the left field wall.”

And finally, Taps Miller begins recounting the wonders of the Dodgers’ second baseman by mentioning other greats of the day.  “Satchel Paige is mellow, so is Campanella, Newcombe, and Doby too – But it’s a natural fact, when Jackie comes to bat, the other team is through.” We get a couple of hot, tight solos from the horns before the finale.

Now, it’s worth noting that by the time of this recording, Robinson had hit about 40 home runs in 1,700 at bats. So the ball may not have zoomed cross the left field wall that many times, but the kicker to the song is “Did you see Jackie hit that ball? Did he hit it, boy, and that ain’t all. HE STOLE HOME!” That’s more exciting than a home run any day.



Legendary Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown said Connie Hawkins was the greatest basketball player he ever saw. Anyone who watched him on the playgrounds of Brooklyn in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s agreed. He was a high-flyer with enormous hands. He could do pretty much anything on a basketball court.

Then the NCAA and NBA screwed him over. In his freshman year at Iowa, Hawkins was implicated in a point-shaving scandal. There was never any evidence to link him to any wrongdoing. But his name was mentioned. He knew a guy who knew a guy. That kind of tenuous connection was all it took.

Iowa expelled him and the NBA blackballed him. By the time he was fully exonerated and allowed into the league, he was 27 and his body was beginning to wear out. He missed his prime. He still lasted eight years and averaged 16 points and eight rebounds per game.

Chad Urmston and Brad Corrigan of Dispatch offer a fairly accurate accounting of Hawkins’ career in basketball. Beginning with an ethereal repetition of “It’s just a dream,” the song builds slowly for its first minute before the hard-edged groove kicks in. And the great opening couplet – “Down on the courts in Bed Stuy, a legend rose from the streets – Just a poor kid with no use for what the others called gravity.”

They take you through the rest of his story before concluding with “Oh long before MJ, before the Doctor – His dreams were stolen, stomped on, and thrown in – Never got his day in the sun – And now here lies High Flying Hawkins, the greatest player that never was.” Cancer took Hawkins’ life in 2017.