Jump to content

Dick Vitale Trying for a Million for Pediatric Lung Disease


Recommended Posts

Believe it - Vitale is still going strong By Mike Lucas

Source: The Capital Times

Posted: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 1:00:00 AM EST

Published: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 1:06:26 PM EST

There was much less gusto in Dick Vitale's "unbeLEEEVable" than normal when he returned the telephone call last week. Now, granted, it's really not unbelievable that the 69-year-old Vitale, a tireless worker for the Jimmy V Foundation, is donating the proceeds from his latest book theme -- ranking his "fabulous" 50 players and moments in college basketball -- to cancer research. That has been one of the most fabulous and altruistic and believable things about Vitale.

"I'm trying to raise a million dollars for pediatric lung cancer research," emphasized Vitale, the ESPN/ABC analyst, who will be signing copies of his book Tuesday (3-4:30 p.m.) at the University Book Store at Hilldale Shopping Center. "I'm not taking five cents of the profit. Every dime is going to the V Foundation. So when people end up buying a book, they can also maybe help someone they love who's battling that disease."

Vitale made that point loud and clear on the phone last Thursday while promoting his appearance in Madison for Tuesday's basketball game between Texas and the University of Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. He was his normal playful, gregarious self until he was asked about undergoing throat surgery last year. Vitale then became very quiet and reflective.

"It's unbelievable," he said softly.

This was not the unbeLEEEVable normally associated with his energized game delivery from courtside. This was not an enthusiastic "Awesome, Baby" either. This was a very, very subdued Dicky V.

"This was scary," he added softly.

Dec. 18, 2007.

"My wife reminded me," Vitale said, "that one year ago today at this time I'm under the knife and I'm going in with the thought that I could be battling cancer."

The throat and voice specialist, Dr. Steven Seitels, one of the leading "PTPer's" in his field, didn't sugarcoat the situation.

"Prior to the surgery," Vitale related, "he said, 'Dick, I don't like what I see. You've got ulcerative lesions on your vocal chord, and I cannot tell if they're cancerous until I'm in there doing the surgery. We'll do an immediate biopsy and send it to the lab, and that will give us an indication.'"

Vitale's gut reaction? "When I went into the surgery," he said, "I thought I would never be behind the microphone again."

Although he was forced to take a vow of silence for a month after the surgery -- an enormous challenge for the voluble Vitale -- he got the best news that anyone could get. There was no cancer. "So, I got a new lease on life," he said. "I feel blessed, I feel lucky. I've felt that way all my life."

In the next breath, Vitale confirmed that following the cancer scare, he had truly an unbeLEEEVable year, punctuated by his induction into the college basketball Hall of Fame. It's a deserving honor, given his commitment to hyping the sport while also promoting the things that he believes in. Yes, including himself.

"It has been an incredible run, and the fans have treated me like royalty," Vitale acknowledged. "The other day, a writer said to me, 'It's amazing how you connect with kids at your age. What do you think is the secret?' I really don't know the answer, except I've always been accessible.

"I meet big name celebrities that I'm excited to meet. But their body language sometimes says, 'Don't bother me.' You can feel it. Whether it's kids on campus or people all over, they know with me, 'We can go up to this guy. He doesn't mind. He loves it.' I really do. I love people."

Especially "old school" people and basketball coaches, like Wisconsin's Bo Ryan. "There are a lot of guys who understand concepts but they never connect in the player-coach situation," Vitale said. "Bo Ryan connects, and he's built that incredible spirit that when they put on the uniform at Wisconsin, they expect to win."

Vitale cited Ryan's blue collar background as a college player (Wilkes) and Division III coach (UW-Platteville) for being the foundation of his hoops philosophy.

"He never forgot where he came from," Vitale said. "He's always been hungry. He wanted to prove himself. He has that chip on his shoulder. I don't mean that in a negative way because I had that little chip, too, and I still probably do.

"There are people who can't believe you've been successful in what you've done. I know, in my case, I came out of junior high coaching and high school coaching, and I had to bust my back. I know Bo has that same mentality of always trying to prove yourself, always trying to be better today than you were yesterday."

The comments were made last spring when Vitale agreed to provide a back cover testimonial for Ryan's autobiography, "Another Hill to Climb." Last week, Vitale suggested Ryan is still coaching the same way -- still coaching "hungry" and still coaching with that chip on his shoulder.

"Bo gets national respect from all of his peers and from all of the media people who know what he's done," Vitale pointed out. "But if you asked the major fans around the nation, they will never mention his name among the upper echelon coaches even though he has proven that he is one. That's what makes you special when you have that chip on your shoulder.

"(Duke coach) Mike Krzyzewski has a little bit of that. Earlier this year, I said to him, 'You're coaching like you're trying to win your first game.' You could feel his intensity, and he's got national titles and the Olympic gold medal. But that's what makes those guys so successful. It's always about being better today than yesterday."

So what makes Ryan's teams special since they rarely can match the elite opponents in personnel? "They understand shot selection," Vitale said. "They understand how to play defense as a team. A lot of teams play individual defense. But with these two clubs, Texas and Wisconsin, you're going to see two teams who have rhythm to their five-man defense."

Vitale feels like the Longhorns are one of those "dangerous" teams capable of winning a national championship, though that becomes problematic this season because of the presence of North Carolina at the top of the polls. "They're in another league," Vitale said of the Tar Heels.

Can they go unbeaten? "Can," he replied. "But I think it's unlikely. Somewhere along the line, they'll get bumped because of the 3-point shot, which has changed the complexion of the game. They're going to take everybody's biggest hits, and all it takes is one bad night."

Dick Vitale doesn't have any of those: bad nights, or bad days. Not anymore. Not knowing how close he came to losing one of his most prized possessions, and that's the ability to communicate verbally. Silence was not golden, only temporary.

So today he's back doing what he loves: yapping about hoops and raising money for cancer research. "I'm 69, going on 70 (June 9)," Vitale said strongly not softly, "and I'll still match any kid's energy."

Copyright 2008 Madison Newspapers, Inc.All Rights Reserved

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use.