The Legacy of Dick Vitale

Dicky V. is “Awesome baby!” The 82-year-old broadcaster has accomplished so much in his storied 41-year career as a College Basketball Analyst. Dick Vitale has come up with some outstanding catchphrases over the years. They include, “This is awesome baby,” and “Diaper Dandy”, (nickname given for standout players in their freshman season). Before he got into broadcasting, Vitale was 79-29 as a College Head Coach. He went 34-60 with the Detroit Pistons during the 1978-1979 NBA season.

How it all started

Vitale was born June 9, 1939 in Passaic, New Jersey as Richard John Vitale to parents John and Mae. His father John worked his first job as a piece work clothing press operator.  His second job was a security guard. Meanwhile, his mother Mae worked as a seamstress in a factory and sewed coats before she suffered a stroke. Vitale graduated from East Rutherford High School in Garden City. He went on to college at Seton Hall University and graduated in 1963 with a bachelors in science degree in business administration. He earned his master’s degree in education from William Paterson University.

Coaching Jobs

Garfield HS (1963-1964)

Vitale’s first coaching gig was at an elementary school in Garfield, New Jersey in 1958. He moved up to Garfield High School and coached from 1963-1964. 

East Rutherford, New Jersey (1964-1971)

Vitale returned to his alma mater to coach East Rutherford High School where he would compile a 131-47 record. He would also lead the team to two New Jersey State Championships. Vitale was not done, as his next step would be the first gig at the college level.

Rutgers University (1971-1973) 

In 1971, Vitale served as an assistant under head coach Dick Lloyd at Rutgers University for three years. He worked there until 1973 and would earn his first head coaching position in college.

University of Detroit (1973-1977)

Vitale had a short, but successful 4-year run as the head coach at the University of Detroit. In 1977, Detroit made the 32 team NCAA Tournament under coach Vitale. They went 78-30, including a 21 game winning streak in 1977. This involved one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history as Detroit knocked off the national champion Marquette Eagles on the road, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He also served as the University Athletic Director following the 1977 year.

Detroit Pistons (1978-1979)

In his only tenure in the NBA, Vitale only went 34-60 in two seasons. He was fired following a 4-8 record in just 12 games of the 1979-1980 NBA season. Part of the reason for Vitale’s downfall was wanting too much power in the organization. Vitale was used to the college game where (up until NIL and the Transfer Portal), you could recruit athletes for free and you had more leeway in terms of job security. In the NBA, you are working with highly paid, but overconfident athletes and you had to have more patience when dealing with the Superstar players. 

Vitale also realized that trading away two first round draft picks to acquire a talented, but cost heavy Bob McAdoo was not a logical move for a team that was not in any sort of position to win when he took the job. As a result, the Pistons went 30-52 in 1978-1979 and earned the number one pick in the 1979 NBA draft.

Broadcasting 

Vitale has called over 1,000 games in his career and up until his two battles with lymphoma, he was covering every game he was scheduled to announce. Until 2015-2016, Vitale was on duty for every edition of the UNC -vs- Duke games on ESPN. He has called games with other prominent broadcasters such as Mike Patrick who also called ESPN’s Sunday Night Football. He also broadcasted Saturday Primetime games with Dan Shulmar. During the NCAA postseason, he’s in the ESPN studio with Rece Davis and other figures like Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Hubert Davis, and everybody’s favorite hall of fame head coach Bobby Knight.

During ABC games, he previously was teamed with Keith Jackson (Woah Nelly), Roger Twibell, Brent Musberger and also Brad Nessler. Combined, all of these personnel have great talents, but they can’t compare to Dickie V. who brings the energy, facts, and catchphrases to the broadcast booth. 

Cancer Diagnosis

Perhaps our greatest accomplishments more often than not come from overcoming and persevering through life and death situations. Vitale learned this from his late friend and former ESPN co-host Jimmy Valvano who passed away from cancer in 1993. 

In 2021, Vitale was first diagnosed with melanoma. It is a very serious skin cancer, but if caught early, is very treatable. It is very scary to have, but knowing Vitale’s health and attitude, he was ready to take on this battle. In August of that same year, he happily announced he was cancer free and returned to the broadcasting booth for the 2021-2022 college football season.

Little did Vitale know what he was going to face next after he was cleared.

In October 2021, Vitale was diagnosed with a scarier type of cancer as he had lymphoma in his throat. Luckily, the diagnosis was pre-cancerous and treatable. Otherwise, it would have continued to grow and then become cancerous. Vitale’s surgery was completed, but he went about three months without talking. For him, talking IS his way of life.

“Talking has been my livelihood… Here’s what I’m known for, being a talkative kind of guy, going out, having fun,” he said. “Not only just the games, but all my life.. And I missed that. I missed being me. I felt trapped. I felt trapped. I couldn’t express myself. I just felt trapped.”

After Vitale missed the rest of the 2021-2022 NCAA College Basketball season, he announced he was cancer free in April 2022.

Later this year in July, Vitale will receive the Jimmy V. Courage Award at the 2022 ESPY’s.  Nobody deserves the award more than he does. 

Awesome baby!

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8 thoughts on “The Legacy of Dick Vitale

  1. Great article! Many things I didn’t know about DV. Thanks Jamie Malloy keep up the good work!

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