Loose Ball: Whitney Was Close to Sports World

The late, great Whitney Houston was no stranger to big-time sporting events and athletes.

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Broadcaster Frank Gifford called it "the most electric moment in sports." He was referring to Whitney Houston's stirring performance of the national anthem at Super Bowl XXXV in 1991, just 10 days after the United States went to war in the Persian Gulf.

It was arguably the greatest rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in sports history, and it couldn't have come at a better time for a nation weary of scud bombs and firefights dominating its TV screens. Word is she had recorded the vocals weeks earlier in a Los Angeles studio, but no one seemed to notice or care -- not the 73,000 fans at Tampa Stadium or the 110 million viewers watching the broadcast.

The version was so profound, with patriotic fever running so high, it was released as a single and was re-released after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks a decade later. The anthem remains the best-known sports connection for Houston, who died Saturday at the age of 48, but it's far from the only one.

An olympiad is among the few sports events that rival a Super Bowl, and Houston enthralled the world during the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. She gave us a long-lasting sports anthem when she performed "One Moment in Time" during the opening ceremonies.

That "one moment" was utilized over and again in sports productions, including a montage of the 1988 World Series highlights on NBC and a tribute during the Baltimore Orioles game in 1995 when Cal Ripken surpassed Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played.

Houston was back on the world's sports stage in 1994, this time during closing ceremonies. She appeared with all-time soccer great Pele to conclude the FIFA World Cup at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The performance of "I Wanna Dance" left much to be desired, both vocally and choreographically, but everyone got an "A" for effort.

"The Greatest Love of All" was one of Houston's biggest hits. And in 1992 she sang it for none other than "the Greatest of All Time." Houston opened Muhammad Ali's 50th-birthday celebration, a black-tie extravaganza that was televised on ABC, hosted by Dustin Hoffman and packed with a long list of luminaries.

That song also served as the background for an NBA Superstars tribute to Julius "Dr. J." Erving, who retired after the 1986-87 season. Sports Illustrated called upon Houston for a different song, "You'll Never Stand Alone," which she performed at the magazine's awards ceremony in 1999. Michael Jordan, among others, was in the audience, and the cameras caught him with a huge smile of admiration at the end.

Another NBA great, Magic Johnson, had Houston as the featured guest when his late-night talk show debuted on Fox in 1998. He was among the many sports figures who reacted to Houston's death Saturday. "Cookie & I are shocked & saddened about the news of Whitney Houston." Johnson tweeted. "A great friend & one of the most beautiful voices this world has heard."

At the intersection of sports and pop culture, everyone on the corner is in mourning.

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