Dick Vitale returned to the broadcast desk last night for a Gonzaga-UCLA game, and if you caught the video live or on Twitter you’d have to be pretty stone cold to not have a salty discharge emerge from your tear ducts for the man who is currently battling cancer. If you didn’t know, Vitale had a melanoma removed earlier this year before being diagnosed with lymphoma. He has been undergoing chemotherapy for months and was cleared by doctors to return to the mic.
I haven’t watched college sports regularly in almost two decades. I find them weird, and those who really care about them even weirder. They’re part of the cabal. And while Vitale clearly has found a niche that made him very famous and very rich, it’s always seemed genuine and from the heart. He just loves the game, and while he’s got his catchphrases and his act, his excitement during a good game or talking about the tournament never felt forced. It was and is who he is.
Vitale sided with the players when the argument over whether they should be paid finally boiled over. You always worry about getting too far out over your skis when talking about a celebrity, but it’s hard not to do with someone like Vitale who has had his heart on his sleeve from the moment you first saw him. Yeah, maybe the catchphrases got annoying at times, maybe there were moments when it felt like he was trying just a bit too hard. But he made what he was covering and broadcasting better. Whatever was forced was only five percent on top of his genuine enthusiasm.
And watching this video, you can see what it’s meant to him, and that he’s genuinely appreciative of what he has and what he means to the fans and them to him. Even if he only gets this game, this night, you can’t help but be delighted for him, to enjoy and appreciate what he’s made his life about in a way few of us get to.
Maybe I’m biased. I happened to sit one row behind him at Wrigley years and years ago, when he simply took his family there because he wanted to enjoy a game at the park. We ended up talking about the Preakness that was taking place later that day. We both had Louis Quatorze to win, which he did. Vitale couldn’t have been nicer and was genuinely interested in talking to me. He couldn’t have been more welcoming with anyone who stopped by to talk to him, even though he was there with his grandkids.
Most of all, Vitale seems like a guy who still can’t believe he’s gotten so much from just doing what he’d be doing anyway, talking about basketball. From what I saw that day, and everything I’ve heard about him from others, he is happy to share that joy and surprise with anyone who wants to join him. It’s like if he doesn’t share that joy, he might wake up from the dream.
Hope you get to do a few more, Dickie V. Sports is just a better place with you.