It’s twenty minutes until noon and Dick Vitale is in full work mode at his ofﬁce-away-from-home, the Broken Egg restaurant in Lakewood Ranch, Florida. As the go-to resource for all things relating to college basketball preps for his ESPN midday commentary on star college freshman Harrison Barnes, he also works on plans for his upcoming V Foundation for Cancer Research gala. In his signature rapid-ﬁre voice known to sports fans around the world, Vitale explains that he accomplishes a lot at his favorite community hangout. He says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“When you do something you love, it’s not work,” Vitale says. “I have a passion for everything I do, and I try to make every day as full as possible. I have a list of things I want to achieve every day, and I enjoy all of it.”
Vitale began his career as an elementary and then high school coach in New Jersey after graduating from Seton Hall University with a degree in business administration. He later moved up to the college level at Rutgers University, working as an assistant coach for two seasons before becoming the head coach for the University of Detroit. After a 21-game winning streak in 1977, Vitale was named athletic director for the university, a position he later followed with a stint as an NBA head coach with the Detroit Pistons. After leaving the Pistons, Vitale agreed to give television a try while he looked for his next coaching position, but the professional die was cast when ESPN executives recognized Vitale’s potential. Vitale called his ﬁrst game for the new all-sports network in 1979, and less than four years later, fans were asking for his autograph during the 1983 NCAA Final Four championship games.
The 1983 games were historic in the annals of basketball history. Against all odds, the “Cinderella” team from North Carolina State University won the national championship game against Houston, and NCSU coach Jim Valvano became an instant celebrity for his unbridled reaction to the 54-52 victory.
According to online resources, “The ending of the ﬁnal [game] is one of the most famous in college basketball history, with Lorenzo Charles’ dunk at the buzzer off a high, arching air ball from 30 feet out by Dereck Whittenburg providing the ﬁnal margin. This contributed to the nickname given to North Carolina State, the “Cardiac Pack,” a reference to their often close games that came down to the wire. … Both Charles’ dunk and Valvano’s running around the court in celebration immediately after the game have been staples of NCAA tournament coverage ever since. North Carolina State’s victory has often been considered one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history.”
Over the years, Valvano and Vitale became friends. Valvano began working for ESPN in 1990 as a basketball commentator and analyst, and Vitale and the former NCSU coach shared studio time discussing the sport they both loved. In 1992, sports fans were shocked when Valvano was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Following his death a year later, Vitale decided to honor his friend by raising money for the foundation Valvano started during his illness.
“One of my fondest memories of Jimmy is him cutting the nets down after winning the national title,” Vitale says. “But his legacy will be saving lives through the millions of dollars raised by The V Foundation.”
THE WORK TO DEFEAT CANCER
Six years ago, Vitale and his wife, Lorraine, began hosting an annual gala for The V Foundation. The 2011 gala is being held at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Sarasota, Florida. In a column he wrote for USA Today, Vitale explained why he continues to support his late friend’s philanthropic endeavor.
“People are always asking me why I seem so obsessed about raising dollars to battle cancer,” Vitale wrote. “Well, I am obviously very proud to be a member of the board of directors of The V Foundation. I know Jimmy Valvano would be really smiling up in heaven knowing the fact that all his buddies have gone out and raised more than $100 million to battle a disease that affects you whether you are rich or poor, black or white, Christian, Jewish or Muslim. It doesn’t matter; the disease can bring you to your knees.
“It breaks my heart in talking to so many dads and moms whose kids are battling with the disease,” Vitale continued. “My heart goes out to every family, and I’ve known so many people over the years that are ﬁghting that battle. That is why year after year, the most meaningful thing tome in the last chapter of my life is raising dollars.”
Vitale’s gala has raised over one million dollars for research each year. In addition, Vitale is donating the proceeds from his latest book, Dickie V’s ABCs and 1-2-3s, to pediatric cancer research.
“No child should be doing chemo or radiation — they should be playing,” he says. “And nothing is dearer to my heart than bringing a smile to a child’s face. Raising money for pediatric cancer research is the most important work I do.”
A DAY IN THE LIFE
In addition to his fundraising efforts for cancer research, Vitale’s schedule is packed with a variety of activities. He says that regardless of season — winter, spring, summer, fall or basketball — he starts his day with exercise.
“I usually get started about 7:30, and I’ll walk for 45 to 60 minutes, work on the machines for an hour or play tennis,” says Vitale. “These activities are a vital part of my make-up, and it’s how I start every day.
“After that, I usually go to the restaurant, and I’ll spend two or three hours making phone calls or getting ready to be on ESPN,” he continues. “Then I’ll go watch my grandkids after school. I have ﬁve grandkids, and they live less than ﬁve minutes away, so we get to spend a lot of time with them every day.”
In the evening, Vitale takes to the computer, answering emails and catching up on correspondence. The 71-year-old grandfather is the author of nine books as well as an active tweeter, with more than 120,000 followers.
“It might surprise people to know that I have so much variety in my life,” he says, laughing. “For example, I love music and go to concerts all the time. Kenny Chesney is a favorite, and I recently saw Lionel Richie, Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks. I love all forms of music, and I love watching people perform.
“I’m also a baseball fanatic,” Vitale continues. “I’m at games all the time. And I tell people that I’ve been lucky enough to be around Hall of Famers all my life because my wife is a true Hall of Famer, and my daughters take after her. We just celebrated our 40th anniversary.”
WHY EVERYBODY LOVES DICKIE V
Throughout his career, Vitale has received numerous awards, honors and recognitions, including a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction and the Stephen H. Goldman Keystone Award for contributions in the ﬁght against cancer. However, despite all the accolades, Vitale is still considered an approachable guy by his fans. Whether he’s calling a game on ESPN, tweeting or just hanging out at the Broken Egg, he holds true to his philosophy of making every minute of every day count.
“I’m living the American dream,” Vitale once said. “I learned from my mom and dad who didn’t have a formal education, but had doctorates of love. They told me that if you gave 110 percent all the time, a lot of beautiful things will happen. I may not always be right, but no one can ever accuse me of not having a genuine love and passion for whatever I do.”
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