ESPN's "mouth that roars," Dick Vitale, is more than a college basketball announcer. He is a cult figure, showman, power broker, author, columnist,
cameo actor, motivational speaker and frequent lightning rod for controversy. Players, coaches, fans and media respect his wisdom and influence; some mimic his "V-Speak," his self-styled vocabulary; others cringe at his shtick. Vitale and ESPN have ridden each other's coattails since the all-sports cable network's launch in 1979.
Some critics say Vitale's appearance on ESPN's telecasts of high school games involving prized recruit LeBron James of Akron, Ohio, reflects a maddening overhype of scholastic sports. Others say Vitale spares coaches, some of whom are his closest friends, when he addresses the ills of college basketball. And still others say Vitale and the network encourage carnival barking to the detriment of the game.
Coaches At All Levels
Vitale, raised in New Jersey, graduated from Seton Hall University and received a master's degree from William Patterson College. After coaching Garfield High School one year, he took over at his alma mater, East Rutherford High, and won two New Jersey state championships and four sectional championships.
After serving as Rutgers University assistant for two years, Vitale took the head job at the University of Detroit. In four seasons under Vitale, the Titans went 78-30, a .722 winning percentage. They won 21 straight in 1976-77, defeated eventual national champion Marquette and played in the NCAA Tournament. After one year as Detroit athletic director, the National Basketball Association's Detroit Pistons named Vitale head coach. He lasted but one year in the NBA, however; the Pistons went 30-52 and missed the playoffs.
Soars with Cable Network
Vitale joined ESPN for the 1979-80 season, shortly after the Bristol, Connecticut-based network went on air. He worked its first college basketball telecast, DePaul's 90-77 victory over Wisconsin in Chicago. His stock rose as the network's did. ESPN in the early-to-mid 1980s carried the early rounds of the NCAA tournament, thus widening Vitale's exposure. (CBS got exclusive rights to the tournament in the late 1980s.) "The cable network, the home of early-round tournament games since 1980, developed a cult following of sorts and many believe the increased exposure given Cinderella teams helped revolutionize recruiting, making it easier for coaches at lesser-known schools to lure high school prospects," Mike Duchant wrote in CBS Sports Line. Vitale now also calls games for ABC, which shares an ownership with ESPN.
In addition to its game telecasts, ESPN introduced Sports Center, its one-hour nightly sports newscast. Sports Center freed TV sports news from ESPN Senior Vice President John Walsh once called "the five minute ghetto" on the local 11 p.m. news.
|1939||Born June 9 in East Rutherford, New Jersey|
|1963-64||Coaches Garfield High School in New Jersey|
|1964-70||Coaches East Rutherford (N.J.) High School|
|1970-72||Assistant coach, Rutgers University|
|1973-77||Head coach, University of Detroit|
|1977||Named athletic director, University of Detroit|
|1978-79||Coaches Detroit Pistons of NBA|
|1979||Calls ESPN's first-ever basketball game, Wisconsin at DePaul|
|1983-84||Works NBA games on ESPN|
|1988||Makes first of several cameo movie appearances as himself, in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad|
|1988||Begins analyst work for ABC Sports|
|1991||Begins as guest columnist for USA Today|
|1991||ESPN airs Vitale special, The Game of Life|
|1994||ESPN airs Vitale special, Game Plan for Life|
|1996||Subject of David Letterman Top-10 list—"Top 10 Signs Dick Vitale Is Nuts!" Vitale himself reads the list on the show|
|1999||Subject of profile on HBO's Real Sports|
|2000||Fireman saves Vitale from choking at Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball game|
|2002||Controversy surrounds ESPN decision to televise high school basketball games featuring college prospect LeBron James, and assign Vitale to telecasts|
Vitale maintains his "V-Speak" glossary on the Internet. "While his knowledge, preparation and enthusiasm are unparalleled, his 'Vitale-isms' have unwittingly taken on a life of their own," ESPN wrote on its Web site. A Vitale arrival for a telecast is often a happening in itself. Mike Krzyzewski, coach of powerhouse Duke and a good friend of Vitale's, good-naturedly needled the announcer on air for not coming to a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium until January of the 2002-03 season.
Vitale, though, is unabashed in his admiration for Duke's program-and building. "Oh, man. I think everyone out there is trying to emulate what goes on at Cameron Indoor Stadium," he wrote in an e-mail response to a fan at his "Dickie V" Web site. "You certainly have to say that at any school with a big program, you have super, super fans. The (Maryland) Terp fans at Comcast Center … the Cameron Crazies down at Duke … Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk out at Kansas … the fans in Lexington (Kentucky) at Rupp Arena. When programs are winning, it breeds that special environment. The Pittsburgh fans at the new Peterson Events Center are into it because the team is faring so well. There are so many special places in college basketball today."
In another fan response, Vitale railed at trash talking in sports. "The sports scene plays a pivotal role in developing youngsters in a positive way," he said. "I think it has lots of good potential for developing the kinds of attitudes needed in a competitive world. I was recently with several leading executives who were former athletes, and they said sports played an important part in their growth."
LeBron James Controversy
Skeptics, however, say Vitale's act serves to encourage the very showboating he says he disdains. And, his over-the-top style clearly does not appeal to everyone. "Over the last 20 years, Vitale has established himself as a leading expert in college basketball. His knowledge of the game rivals that of Peter Gammons in baseball. He has quick facts and stats at his fingertips, and is as credible an announcer as there can be," said Boston writer Bob George on his web site. "But the guy is an absolute horror to listen to. Annoying? At least. Aggravating? Definitely."
A media firestorm erupted during the winter of 2002-03 when ESPN assigned Vitale to cover high school games. LeBron James, a star at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, was the 2002 Parade All-America High School Boys Basketball Player of the Year, and had appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated. and ESPN The Magazine. ESPN assigned another marquee announcer, former NBA star Bill Walton , to join Vitale. What resulted, critics said, was a carnival atmosphere when St. Vincent-St. Mary played (and defeated) what Minneapolis writer Steve Aschburner called "a traveling troop of NBA wannabes from a hoops factory in Virginia (Oak Hill Academy)." "Oh, every so often, the two hired shills (Vitale and Walton) would verbally wring their hands about the hype and how this might be too much pressure for the young man. Then Vitale would crank himself up again and rave about the money ("Millions, ba-by!") that one lucky sneaker company will lavish upon him," Aschburner wrote in the Star Tribune.
Vitale defended himself after Billy Packer of CBS joined the criticism. "ESPN is not hyping LeBron James," he said. "(He) is just the latest teenage phenom to capture the public's attention."
Vitale, who is signed with ESPN through 2006, has written six books and received countless awards from basketball and civic organizations. He has a merchandise Web site and regularly contributes to ESPN The Magazine, USA Today and other periodicals. He has also played his own character in various television shows. He and his wife, Lorraine, have two daughters, Terri and Sherri, each of whom attended Notre Dame University on tennis scholarships and have earned master's degrees.
Some critics say Vitale represents over-the-top showmanship in broadcasting. "I'm taking up a collection to bribe Dicky V into doing one entire game without raving about some stupid dunk," wrote Bob Ryan, longtime Boston Globe basketball columnist. "The man is a sweetheart human being, but he has no idea how much harm he causes by encouraging on-court nonsense."
Still Going After Laughs
For a song about ESPN's Dick Vitale… [baritone Robert] Goulet sang, to the tune of "Yankee Doodle Dandy":"What the hell's a 'Diaper Dandy'?"
"Or a 'Dipsy-doo Dunk-a-roo'?" "A 'Windex Man' or a 'Slam-Jam-Bam'" "Is that English that he parlez-voos?"
Source: Sandomir, Richard, New York Times, October 28, 1996.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1964-70||Coaches East Rutherford High School (N.J.) to four state sectional championships, two state championships and 35-game win streak over seven years|
|1976||Honorary alumnus, University of Detroit|
|1977||Coaches University of Detroit to 21-game win streak, upset of eventual national champion Marquette and berth in NCAA tournament|
|1977||Man of the Year Award, Detroit Athletic Club|
|1983||amed one of Five Most Influential Personalities by Basketball Times|
|1989||American Sportscasters Association "Sportscaster of the Year."|
|1994-95||Wins Cable ACE Awards|
|1997||Honorary degree, Notre Dame University|
|1998||Curt Gowdy Media Award, Basketball Hall of Fame|
|2001||Sarasota Boys and Girls Club inducts Vitale into Hall of Fame, names new fitness center in his honor|
|2002||Named one of area's most influential citizens by Sarasota Magazine|
But Vitale's knowledge of college basketball, and influence within it, are without question. And ratings attest to his recognition factor. "Dick Vitale has been synonymous with college basketball," said Rudy Martzke, media critic for USA Today. "He brings an insider's perspective to each broadcast, and his lifelong relationships provide him a wealth of knowledge few can equal."
SELECTED WRITINGS BY VITALE:
(With Curry Kirkpatrick) Vitale: Just Your Average Bald, One-eyed Basketball Wacko Who Beat the Ziggy and Became a PTP'er. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.
(With Dick Weiss) Time Out, Baby! New York: Putnam, 1991.
(With Mike Douchant) Tourney Time—It's Awesome, Baby Indianapolis: Masters Press, 1993.
(With Charlie Parker and Jim Angresano) Dickie V's Top 40 All-Everything Teams. Indianapolis: Masters Press, 1994.
(With Dick Weiss) Holding Court: Reflections on the Game I Love. Indianapolis: Masters Press, 1995.
(With Dick Weiss) Campus Chaos: Why the Game I Love Is Breaking My Heart. Indianapolis: Time Out Publishing, 1999.
Ashburner, Steve. "NBA Insider: Sad Case of LeBron James." Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com, (December 15, 2002).
"Dick Vitale Bio." ESPN.com, http://www.espn.go.com/dickvitale/vfile/index.html (January 17, 2003).
Douchant, Mike. "A Look at How All the Madness Has Evolved." CBS Sports Line, http://live.sportsline.com/u/page/covers/basketball/mar98/ncaaprev3198.htm, (March 1, 1998).
George, Bob. "Final Four Becomes Final Bore." Bob George's BOSSports, http://www.bossports.net/celtics/cb040200.html, (April 4, 2000).
Lincicome, Bernie. "Media Hype Keeps Driving LeBronmania." Rocky Mountain News, http://www.rockymountainnews.com, (January 15, 2003).
Ryan, Bob. "Running a Few Thoughts Up the Opinion Pole." Boston Globe, http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/363/sports, (December 29, 2002).
Shapiro, Leonard. "Highs, Lows of Television Sports in '02." Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com, (January 2, 2003).
Telander, Rick. "A Bunch of Hypocrites." Chicago Sun Times, http://www.suntimes.com/index/telander.html, (December 15, 2002).
"V Speak: Glossary of Terms and Teams." ESPN.com, http://espn.com/dickvitale/vspeak/index/html, (January 17, 2003).
Wendorff, Hermann. "Devils Dump Hoyas." Fayetteville Observer, http://www.fayettevillenc.com, (January 15, 2003).
Sketch by Paul Burton
Vitale, Dick 1939–
VITALE, Dick 1939–
Full name, Richard Vitale; born June 7 (one source says June 9), 1939, in East Rutherford (other sources cite Garfield or Passaic), NJ; son of John (a clothing press operator and security guard) and Mae (a seamstress) Vitale; married Lorraine, 1971; children: Terri, Sherri. Education: Seton Hall University, B.S., business administration; William Paterson College, M.Ed. Religion: Roman Catholicism. Avocational Interests: Sports.
Addresses: Office—ESPN Sports, ESPN Plaza, Bristol, CT 06010. Agent—Roy Judelson, IMG, 22 East 71st St., New York, NY 10021-4911.
Career: Sports commentator and writer. Mark Twain Elementary School, Garfield, NJ, elementary school teacher, 1960s; junior high football coach in New Jersey, 1960s; Garfield High School, Garfield, NJ, basketball coach, 1963–64; East Rutherford High School, East Rutherford, NJ, basketball coach, beginning 1964–70; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, assistant basketball coach, c. 1970–72; University of Detroit, Detroit, MI, head basketball coach, 1973–77, athletic director, 1977; Detroit Pistons professional basketball team, Detroit, MI, head coach, 1978–79; ESPN Sports, television commentator, beginning 1979; sports commentator for ABC-TV and ABC-Radio, beginning 1987, and for ESPN Radio; National spokesperson, scholarship donor, and fund-raiser with the "Dick Vitale Sports Night" banquets, Boys and Girls Club of America, beginning c. 2003; lecturer and public speaker. Mohinder Sporting Goods, creator and promoter of a line of sporting goods; affiliated with merchandise; appeared in print advertisements and television commercials. V Foundation (cancer research organization), member of the board of directors and cochair of the V Foundation Golf Classic. Member of selection committee, Naismith awards and Wooden awards, and member of the Associated Press voting panel that determines the top twenty-five college basketball teams. Member of the advisory boards of both the Harlem Globetrotters and the Henry Iba Citizen awards. Donor of the Dick Vitale Family Scholarship, University of Notre Dame. Also known as Dickie V.
Awards, Honors: Named a honorary alumnus, University of Detroit, 1976; named Detroit Man of the Year, United Fund, 1977; Greater Detroit Community Award, Hartford Insurance Company, 1978; Man of the Year Award, Detroit Athletic Club, 1983; named one of the most influential personalities of 1983; inducted into the East Rutherford, NJ Hall of Fame, 1985; Honorary Citizens Award, Boystown, 1988; named one of the five most influential personalities, Basketball Times, 1989; named sports personality of the year, American Sportscasters Association, 1989, and NIT (National Invitation Tournament) Metropolitan Media Sports, 1991; inducted into the Elmwood Park, NJ Hall of Fame, 1991; Sportscaster of the Year Award, American Sportscasters Association, 1994–95; John Domino Award for Professional Service, St. Bonaventure University and Empire Sports Network, 1995; Phil Rizzuto "Scooter Award," for charitable work, 1995; Black Coaches Association Award, for work for children, 1995; recognition from the Magic Johnson Roundball Classic for contributions to children, 1995; Man of the Year Award, Suffolk County (NY) Make-a-Wish Foundation, 1996; inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, 1996; Annual Cable Excellence (CableACE) awards and award nominations, National Cable Television Association; Ronald Reagan Media Award, outstanding media personality, United States Sports Academy, c. 1997; honorary degree, University of Notre Dame, c. 1997; Curt Gowdy Media Award, Basketball Hall of Fame, c. 1998; Lifetime Achievement Award, Sons of Italy, 1999; Cliff Wells Appreciation Award, outstanding contributions to college basketball and college basketball coaching, National Association of Basketball Coaches, 2000; Jake Wade Award, College Sports Information Directors of America, 2001; inducted into the Sarasota Boys and Girls Club Hall of Fame, 2001; President's Humanitarian Award, Florida Association of Community Corrections, 2002; named one of the area's most influential citizens, Sarasota magazine, 2002; Ethics and Sportsmanship in Sports Media Award, Institute for International Sport, 2003; National Pathfinder Award, Indiana Sports Corporation and Indiana Black Expo, 2003; inducted into the Five-Star Basketball Camp Hall of Fame, 2003; inducted into the National Italian Sports Hall of Fame, the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, and the University of Detroit Hall of Fame; a Sarasota Boys and Girls Club fitness center was named in his honor. The Atlantic Coast Conference, Seton Hall University, and the University of Detroit have held roasts in his honor.
Television Appearances; Series:
Appeared in the regular segment "Dick Vitale's Fast Break," SportsCenter, ESPN.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Himself, ESPN 25: Who's #1?, ESPN, 2004.
Television Appearances; Movies:
(Uncredited) Himself, A Season on the Brink, ESPN, 2002.
Television Appearances; Specials:
The Game of Life, ESPN, 1991.
Game Plan for Life, ESPN, 1994.
Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:
Commentator, Mercedes-Benz Presents the Basketball Writers' Player of the Year Awards, ABC, 1990.
Presenter, The America's Choice Awards, TBS, 1990.
The 1997 ESPY Awards, ESPN, 1997.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Dan Vincente, "The Getaway," The Cosby Show, CBS, 1992.
Reader of list "Top 10 Signs Dick Vitale Is Nuts!," The Late Show with David Letterman (also known as The Late Show), CBS, 1996.
Arli$$, HBO, 1996.
Real Sports, HBO, 1999.
Himself, ESPN Sports Century, ESPN, 2002.
Himself, Jimmy Kimmel Live, ABC, 2004.
Himself, "Best of Cheap Seats," Cheap Seats, ESPN Classic, 2005.
Himself, Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith, ESPN2, 2005.
Appeared in episodes of other series, including ESPN Hollywood, ESPN2.
Baseball announcer, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (also known as The Naked Gun), Paramount, 1988.
Himself (television sports commentator), Hoop Dreams, Columbia, 1993.
Himself, Blue Chips, Paramount, 1994.
Hal Gibson, Jury Duty, Sony Pictures Releasing, 1995.
Himself, The Sixth Man (also known as The 6th Man), Buena Vista, 1997.
Himself, He Got Game, Buena Vista, 1998.
Himself, Love & Basketball, New Line Cinema, 2000.
Himself, Complete Guide to Guys (also known as Dave Barry's "Complete Guide to Guys"), Labrador Pictures, 2005.
Commentator for a radio show hosted by J. P. McCarthy, WJR (Detroit, MI); appeared in a regular segment on Mike & Mike in the Morning, ESPN Radio.
Host, Time Out Baby! Dick Vitale's College Hoop Superstars, ESPN Home Video, 1991.
Host, Dick Vitale's "Dreamtime, Baby" (also known as Dreamtime, Baby!), Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 1996.
Teleplays with Others; Specials:
The Game of Life, ESPN, 1991.
Game Plan for Life, ESPN, 1994.
(With Curry Kirkpatrick) Vitale: Just Your Average, Bald, One-Eyed Basketball Wacko Who Beat the Ziggy and Became a PTP'er (also known as Vitale), Simon & Schuster, 1988.
(With Dick Weiss) Time Out, Baby!, Putnam, 1991.
(With Mike Douchant) Tourney Time—It's Awesome Baby, Masters Press, 1993.
(With Charlie Parker and Jim Angresano) Dickie V's Top 40 All-Everything Team, Masters Press, 1995.
(With Weiss) Holding Court: Reflections on the Game I Love, Masters Press, 1995.
(With Weiss) Campus Chaos: Why the Game I Love Is Breaking My Heart, TimeOut Publishing, 1999.
(With Weiss) Living a Dream: Reflections of 25 Years Sitting in the Best Seat in the House, Sports Publishing, 2003.
Sports columnist for Basketball Times and Eastern Basketball, both beginning 1979; author of "Final Four," a column in USA Today; also a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. Affiliated with the magazine Dick Vitale's Basketball. Also affiliated with computer games.
Playboy, March, 1996, pp. 128-32.
Sport, April, 1998, pp. 78-84.
Sporting News, November 17, 2003, p. 14.
Sports Illustrated, November 19, 1986, p. 114; November 11, 1991; February 10, 1992; June 14, 1993; March 7, 1994, p. 72; December 28, 1998, p. 87; March 4, 2002, p. 20; February 16, 2004, p. 13.