Congratulations are in order for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, as they defeated the Carolina Panthers 24-10. Now that Super Bowl 50 is over, it’s time to talk college basketball.
Love him or hate him, over the last 37 years, he has become the face of NCAA College Basketball. With his high-energy delivery, unmistakable hollow voice and unlimited enthusiasm for the game he loves, he has also become an incredible public speaker. This guy demands attention when he enters the room and the players love him. He’s funny looking, nearly bald and has only one eye that works. And like most Italian men, if you cut his hands off he wouldn’t be able to speak. Meeting him is like going to the circus or being in a parade. You just know he has a peach basket hanging somewhere in his backyard at home. His catch phrases like: “he’s a diaper dandy” (young player), “he’s the “Windex man” (can rebound), “dipsy-do-dunker-rue” (slam dunk), “he can flat-out shoot the ‘J’ (he can make a jump shot), and many others have become trademark slogans.
In the summer of 1990, Pizza Hut announced they would become a major sponsor of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Mini-basketballs would now be a giveaway with the purchase of your favorite pizza. I was in Phoenix, Arizona, for a Pizza Hut rollout meeting and the guest speaker was the godfather of round ball himself, Dick Vitale. Dickie V. would also be signing his newest book (one of nine). Dick and I had several neat things in common. We were both huge college basketball fans, enjoyed the history of the game, and we were both friends of N. C. State basketball coach, Jim Valvano. In fact, my mom worked in the ordering department for all the sports athletic equipment used by the university. When I met Vitale, we began to talk about Valvano and Atlantic Coast Conference basketball. He asked me to sit with him, while he signed books for his fans. It was quite an afternoon.
Richard John “Dick” Vitale was born June 9, 1939, in Passaic, New Jersey. His father, John, was a security guard and clothing press operator. His mom, Mae, worked in a factory as a seamstress. Dick lost the vision in his left eye due to an accident with a pencil in kindergarten. Dick graduated from East Rutherford High School. He attended Seton Hall University, graduated in 1963, and later earned his master’s degree in education from William Paterson University. In 1959, Vitale’s first coaching job occurred at an elementary school located in Garfield, New Jersey. He would later become the head coach of Garfield High School and then East Rutherford High School. By 1971, you could find Vitale at Rutgers University as their assistant basketball coach. He was hired in 1973 by the University of Detroit, to be their head coach. Vitale led his 1977 Detroit team on a 21 consecutive-games winning streak and the NCAA Tournament. Dick Vitale was hired by the Detroit Pistons of the NBA for the 1978-79 seasons. They finished 30-52 and Dick was let go the following year, twelve games into the 1979-80 season, on November 8, 1979.
Scotty Connal of ESPN offered Dick his first TV job as a broadcaster. Vitale said, “No thanks.” He knew nothing about television. His wife, Lorraine, talked him into accepting the job on a temporary basis. By December of that same year, Vitale was working as a color commentator on college basketball games with Jim Simpson. By 2004-05, Dick was calling 40 games a year on television, for ESPN and ABC. He is signed through the 2017-18 college basketball season with ESPN.
His broadcast partners have been many. He has also worked with Dan Shulman, Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, “Digger” Phelps, Bob Knight, Keith Jackson, Brent Musburger, and Tim Brando, as well as the late Jim Valvano and many others.
After Jim Valvano’s death, Dick Vitale became the spearhead of the Jimmy V. Foundation for Cancer Research, which raises money in Valvano’s honor. As mentioned, Dick has authored nine books and has also been a part of several movies. He continues to travel and speak to students and professionals. Dick and his wife, Lorraine, live in Florida, and they have two grown daughters.
Dick Vitale was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, as a contributor to the sport. He is also in the College Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2011, the University of Detroit named their basketball court in his honor. On August 18, 2012, Dick was inducted into the Little League Museum Hall of Excellence.
Dick Vitale is awesome, baby, with a capital “A.” I cannot begin to tell you how nice and genuine this guy is. He is the same guy in person that you see on TV. His enthusiasm is contagious, and he realizes that he has been blessed. I watched N.C. State play last Saturday afternoon in Durham, North Carolina, against Duke University, the day before the Super Bowl. Vitale did the color commentary as no one else can. He just has that something that connects with fans and it cannot be taught. At 76 years old, he’s no “diaper” dandy. One day the world will go on without Dickie V., but I can promise you, it will not be as much fun.