ESPN’s Dick Vitale thrills UNCP audience


Dick Vitale took his show on the road to UNC Pembroke April 11 and came away with a “BIG W, BABY!”

Vitale or “Dickie V,” as he is affectionately known by adoring sports fans everywhere, is synonymous with the immense popularity of college basketball and ESPN, the cable sports network where he works.

From the firm handshake, to his own brand of basketball lingo, to his immense personal charm and story-telling wizardry, Vitale was a tour de force at UNCP. He spoke at the GivensDick Vitale Performing Arts Center to an audience of about 1,000 fans as part of the University’s Distinguished Speakers Series.

Vitale’s success amazes even Vitale.

“I’m so blessed, I pinch myself everyday,” Vitale said. “I am the luckiest guy in the world. Would you believe I have my very own bobblehead and V-gear?”

Vitale came from a working class, New Jersey family and was the first in his family to attend college.

“I came from a home with so much love,” he said. “My parents didn’t have an education, but they had a doctorate in love.”

From teaching 6th grade and coaching high school basketball, Vitale’s rise in the coaching ranks was rapid. In seven years, he was coach for the Detroit Pistons of the National Basketball Association.

But 12 games into his first NBA season, it all came crashing down. Vitale was fired but not defeated.

Like his mother always told him, “’Someday Richie, you’re going to make it because you have enthusiasm, spirit and energy.’”

Vitale walked away from coaching into the announcer’s booth at ESPN, shortly after the network’s launch, and the rest is history. At age 65, he recently signed on through the 2006 season.

 Dick Vitale

Vitale with Abdul Ghaffar in WNCP-TV studios

“Having coached at all levels helped me understand what coaches and players are going through,” Vitale said in an afternoon interview with WNCP-TV, UNCP’s broadcasting arm. “Now I coach on TV, and I never lose. ”

It wasn’t all wins for Vitale. If his answers to basketball questions are rapid-fire and full of fun and intensity, when he talks about his late friend Jim Valvano and his work for the Jimmy V Foundation, he becomes very serious.

“Watching Jimmy V battle cancer was a unique experience. He was so courageous in his battle,” Vitale said. “Cancer could take away his body but not his passion.”

“He wanted to beat cancer, but he knew he couldn’t do it. So he called a lot of his friends together to tell us that we can beat cancer if we go out and raise money for research.”

Vitale and friends, like Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski, raised millions for cancer research.

The serious side of Dick Vitale is also concerned with helping young people “make good choices in life.”

“I got a lucky break, but I tell kids to have a plan B - get an education,” he said. “So many kids have the goals but don’t make the commitment. You’ve got to feel it; you’ve got to believe it.”

Vitale’s most emotional moment of the night was reserved for the young people in the audience.

“There’s nothing more important than family,” he said. “Don’t ever forget that somebody cares about you, and you care back. Somebody gives a damn about you; you give a damn back.”

Basketball is the bread of life for Vitale, and he never stopped coaching or caring. His parting words were to UNCP’s basketball coach Jason Tinsley, whose team was 3-25 last season.

“Coach,” Vitale said, “get it rolling. Go Braves!”

Vitale was the final speaker in UNCP’s 2004-05 Distinguished Speaker Series that included CNN’s Judy Woodward, PBS’s Mark Russell and Princeton University’s Dr. Cornel West. For more information about the series, please contact the Office of Student Activities at 910.521.6207 or