USA TODAY International Edition
Dick Vitale on recovery: ‘ Some dark, dark moments’
The voice sounded raspier than usual, but its owner was inimitably energized.
Dick Vitale, 83, relishes this time of year.
“It’s the greatest three weeks in all of sports,” he said with gusto.
So what Diaper Dandies and Prime Time Players will be truly awesome, baby? Who will be crowned champion on April 3?
“Look, you’ve got a better chance of guessing than I do,” said Vitale, who has since picked Alabama, the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed.
“This is probably the most unpredictable tournament in 44 years ( since he started with ESPN.)”
During a recent interview with USA TODAY Sports, however, the legendary college basketball broadcaster was reflecting on his good fortune as much as he was prognosticating and hyperventilating.
“It’s just a great feeling,” Vitale said during a phone interview, “because I’m telling you, there were some dark, dark moments, man.”
‘ I felt trapped’
A year ago, Vitale had just finished a round of chemotherapy.
“Laying in the hospital after you do your chemo,” Vitale said, “your family leaves, you’re laying there and thoughts go through your mind. You know, if you’re going to see another day. Never mind another basketball game.”
During a public battle with cancer, Vitale missed nearly the entire 2021- 22 college basketball season.
Months after undergoing surgeries to remove melanoma, he was diagnosed with lymphoma and pre- cancerous dysplasia on his vocal cords. The dysplasia robbed him of his voice for eight weeks and required him to communicate in writing.
“I felt trapped,” he said. Rather than provide analysis on “SportsCenter” as he’d grown accustomed to during the NCAA Tournament, he watched the games at home in Florida with his wife, Lorraine.
“They’re always enjoyable,” he said, but allowed with a chuckle, “It was kind of depressing.”
Just weeks before Kansas beat North Carolina for the national championship, Vitale proclaimed he had won his own national championship.
He was cancer free, his doctors told him.
In November, as the 2022- 23 season got underway, Vitale and his famous voice were back courtside and on the airwaves.
“I wouldn’t say full strength,” his wife said. “But he’s certainly back and feeling great. Feels like he’s got another lease on life now.”
Thanks in part to what Vitale calls “the best medicine.”
‘ The love has been unreal’
In mid- December, Vitale was working the broadcast for the Indiana- Kansas basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, where the sellout crowd gave him a two- minute standing ovation.
Vitale shed a faucet of tears.
He still gets emotional talking about it.
“The love I’ve received has been unreal,” he said. “I get so much encouragement from my family, and I can’t express to you enough my love for ESPN. It’s more than a job for me.”
He has returned the love as best as he knows how.
His voice requires more rest after two surgeries on his vocal cords, so he’s given up the doubleheaders and back- tobacks. But college basketball has been able to count on Vitale for one game a week.
He’ll deliver more analysis throughout the three- week tournament, then head to the Final Four in Houston, where he’ll call a semifinal game and the championship game on ESPN’s international broadcast.
And probably agree to more interviews than his doctor would like. “I got to live, too,” he said.
But he’s focused on more than his own life.
‘ Don’t bet against me’
More than basketball, Vitale wanted to talk about his mission to raise money for pediatric cancer research. He was inspired by former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano’s valiant battle with cancer.
Last May, Vitale’s gala raised $ 11.1 million for pediatric cancer research. Vitale said the annual gala, now in its 18th year, has raised a total of $ 55 million.
So, he had a request. To please include a mention of his raffle to raise more funds for the kids.
The raffle closes on Wednesday, the winner will be selected on Thursday and awarded what might as well be described as The Dick Vitale Bonanza.
The winner and a guest will get anall expenses paid trip to Sarasota, Florida, the weekend of the Sweet 16. It’ll include dinner at Vitale’s house and a chance to watch a game and talk basketball with Vitale.
A year ago, he wasn’t sure how many more NCAA Tournaments he’d see.
Now, Vitale said, his goal is – at the age of 100 – to walk into an arena, sit courtside, do a game “and say, ‘ It’s awesome, baby’ with a capital A!’
“I only have 16 more years to go. And don’t bet against me.”