The two top teams in college basketball met tonight as No. 1 Gonzaga faced No. 2 UCLA, but the highlight of the evening was legendary ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale returning to call the game after battling two separate forms of cancer this year, with his latest diagnosis coming just last month.
Before the game, Vitale said being cleared to call the game was “the best medicine I could ask for,” and it was clear he meant it as he took the mic opposite Dave O’Brien.
“It’s great being here, Dave,” said Vitale, who was visibly emotional as O’Brien briefly introduced him. “I didn’t want to cry,” he continued, his voice cracking.
“I can’t believe I’m sitting here. This is really a big thrill for me. I want to thank all you people, sent me so many great messages. ESPN, Jimmy Pitaro, all my buddies at ESPN. I want to thank certainly, my family and all the fans. My, you’ve been unbelievable.”
He then got serious.
“On October 12, I’ll be honest with you, when they walked in and told me I had cancer, they thought it was bile duct cancer, and it was really going to be a serious surgery and all,” said Vitale, who later found out he instead had lymphoma that could be treated over the course of six months, with a 90% success rate. He had had surgery to remove melanoma just weeks before receiving the lymphoma news.
“I never dreamt at 82 that I’m going to be at courtside again,” said Vitale tonight. “But to be here again…I’m sorry. I hope I don’t cause a problem out there, but I feel so emotional.”
We’re so happy you’re back, @DickieV
— ESPN (@espn) November 24, 2021
Vitale, who namechecked ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro in his comments, called the first college basketball game ESPN ever aired in 1980. To many, he has been the voice of college basketball ever since.
The onetime player and coach was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, received a Lifetime Achievement Sports Emmy in 2019 and was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
He’s also appeared in a number of films including The Naked Gun, He Got Game and Love & Basketball.
As for the game, Gonzaga blew out UCLA, 83-63.