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Impotent Dick Vitale

January 29, 2003 Columns No Comments


Impotent Dick Vitale

by Michael Ermitage

Dick Vitale considers himself the luckiest man alive. Hugh Hefner may have something to say about that. Although some would say that there is no bigger boob than Dick Vitale.

The hyperactive Vitale has been screaming into your living room since ESPN launched in 1979. He called the first college basketball game ever to air on the network – a DePaul victory against Wisconsin. Since then, he has called nearly 1000 basketball games, both college and professional. And he has transcended the sport. If college hoops were a sitcom, Vitale would be Jerry Seinfeld. But even as successful sitcoms begin to grow tired, so has Vitale’s act. His once-funny high volume alliterations are now impetus to reach for the remote as quickly as possible. His on-air candor and continual promotion of college basketball has grown annoying, like a child repeatedly asking you the same question over and over again.

And the college basketball universe has become everything Vitale. There’s Dick Vitale books, Dick Vitale promotional tapes, Dick Vitale speaking engagements, Dick Vitale impersonation contests, Dick Vitale posters, Dick Vitale gift sets (yes, gift sets), a Dick Vitale segment on Sportscenter, Dick Vitale t-shirts, Dick Vitale hats, Dick Vitale bobbleheads ($12.95) and Dick Vitale cut-out masks. Oh, and of course, there’s a Dick Vitale web site where you can get all the aforementioned Vitale merchandise – called V-Gear, of course.

Lost in all the hoopla, excuse my pun, are the good things about Dick Vitale. Vitale knows his basketball. He was a coach from 1963 to 1979, instructing on every level from junior high through to the pros. He was an excellent high school coach, winning four state sectional championships. As a college coach, he had a winning percentage of .722. His insight into the strategy of the game is spectacular, when it is displayed on telecasts. His feel for the flow of a game is also superb, often sensing a run just before it happens.

But beyond Vitale’s knowledge and insight, he brings legitimate enthusiasm. As over-the-top and farcical Vitale’s enthusiasm has become, it is still obvious that he loves college basketball. And in time, many will point to him as being one of the main reasons college basketball has reached such heights of popularity.

In the midst of traveling cross country, giving inspirational talks and ignoring his Ritalin prescription, Vitale is also quite the philanthropist. His work with the Boys and Girls Club of Sarasota, Fla. has prompted the association to name a building after him as well as induct Vitale into the Sarasota Boys and Girls Club Hall of Fame. I’m not sure who else graces that particular Hall of Fame, but an honor nonetheless. Many are familiar with Vitale and his tireless work with the Jimmy V foundation, started in honor of Vitale’s friend Jim Valvano, who passed away of cancer. That foundation has raised millions for cancer research, thanks much to Vitale’s efforts with the organization.

Furthermore, Vitale finds time to reach out to his fans personally. A journalist friend of mine who was born with a degenerative eye disease wrote to Vitale to share with him his story since both are vision-impaired journalists. I, of course, scoffed at the notion, thinking that me-me-me Vitale would never respond. But he did. He sent autographed copies of his books and included a letter sharing some of his experiences. A real pick me up for a down-on-his-luck college student.

Somewhere through the years, Vitale has become more media machine than man, more talking head than free-thinking mind. There’s a common ground, where the college basketball fan mutes the in-your-face Vitale but keeps an open ear to the educated, well-meaning Vitale. And Dick remembers that not everyone is high-octane, that there’s a proper place for celebration and excitement just as there’s a proper place for criticism and analysis. In Vitale’s own words . . . that would be AWESOME BABY!!!

     

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