Dick Vitale returned to the airwaves last night for a Gonzaga-UCLA game, and if you caught the video live or on Twitter, you have to be pretty cold not to have a salty discharge from your tear ducts for the man currently battling cancer. If you did not know, Vitale had a melanoma removed earlier this year before being diagnosed with lymphoma. He has been undergoing chemotherapy for months and received approval from a doctor to return to the microphone.
I have not seen college sports regularly in almost two decades. I find them strange, and those who really care about them even stranger. They are part of the solitaire. And although Vitale has clearly found a niche that made him very famous and very rich, it has always seemed genuine and from the heart. He just loves the game, and even though he has his slogans and his plot, his excitement during a good game or when he talked about the tournament never felt forced. It was and is who he is.
Vitale sided with the players when the discussion about whether they should be paid finally boiled over. You always worry about getting too far 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 first time you saw him. Yes, maybe the punches got annoying sometimes, maybe there were times when it felt like he was trying a little too hard. But he did what he watched and sent better. Whatever was forced was only five percent on top of his genuine enthusiasm.
And when you watch this video, you can see what it means to him, and that he really appreciates what he has and what he means to the fans and them to him. Even if he only gets this game, this evening, you can not help but be happy for his sake, to enjoy and appreciate what he has made his life in a way that few of us come to.
Maybe I’m biased. I happened to be sitting in a row behind him at Wrigley many years ago, when he simply took his family there because he wanted to enjoy a game in the park. We ended up talking about Preakness which took place later that day. We both had Louis Quatorze to win, which he did. Vitale could not have been nicer and was genuinely interested in talking to me. He could not have been more welcoming with someone who came by to talk to him, even though he was there with his grandchildren.
Most of all, Vitale seems like a guy who still can not believe he’s gotten so much from just doing what he would do anyway, talking about basketball. From what I saw that day, and everything I have heard about him from others, he is happy to share that joy and surprise with everyone who wants to go with him. It’s like if he does not share that joy, he can wake up from the dream.
Hope you can do some more, Dickie V. Sports is just a better place with you.