The Color Commentator

| April 13, 2011
Dick Vitale

Dick Vitale

Asking Dick Vitale to lend his famous voice to the mission of The Healing Place was a no-brainer. The legendary broadcaster is one of the nation’s most requested motivational speakers and let’s be honest: He’s Dickie V, a man whose enthusiasm could rival the collective vivacity of even the best cheerleading squad.

Vitale, 71, will be the featured guest speaker at the Thursday, April 14, Celebrate Freedom Dinner, sponsored by Brown-Forman, at the Louisville Marriott Downtown. The event will raise necessary funds for The Healing Place, a Louisville organization that “seeks to reach the homeless, offer recovery for the addicted and help restore productive lives,” while also commemorating the establishment’s many successes.

“We feel like (Vitale) will be an exciting speaker for the evening as more individuals and companies become acquainted with The Healing Place, our message and our success,” said Director of Communications Marla Highbaugh. “We are very excited about our program and the lives that are changed every day, and we want more people to know what we do.”

Vitale, who is – as he appears on TV – always on the go, was kind enough to take a few moments to talk with me last week as he traveled in his home state of Florida and made preparations to head to the River City. The speakerphone conversation – which attracted the attention of my colleagues, including longtime sports writer Earl Cox – was (it has to be said) awesome, baby.

What did you think of this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament?

It certainly was very dramatic, and many games were buzzer beaters, lots of surprises. But ultimately (in) the championship game, the quality of play was not really outstanding, but it was still competitive and to the people of Connecticut, it was a thing of beauty because they won.

What was the biggest surprise about March Madness?

I was surprised early that Morehead State beat Louisville. I had Louisville going to the Final Four, so that really set the tone for the tournament. I was absolutely stunned and shocked that VCU and Butler made it to the Final Four. I didn’t think in any way that would have occurred. …

College Basketball Report - Dick Vitale and Bob Ley

Dick Vitale and Bob Ley on ESPN's College Basketball Report.

Who’s a better coach? Rick Pitino or John Calipari?

The state of Kentucky is very lucky to have two guys that are quality. They really are both super at what they do. Saying who’s better would be like who do you like better growing up as a kid? Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby? In today’s terminology, do you like Kenny Chesney if you’re a country fan or do you like Bruce Springsteen? It’s a matter of taste and … should we all do our job half as effectively as what they do in their jobs, I think we’d be big time successes.

Switching gears a little bit here, you’ve written a number of books, but how did the experience differ with “Dickie V’s ABCs and 1-2-3s: A Great Start for Young Superstars,” your first children’s book?

The outstanding illustrator (of the book), Craig Lueck, is a real giant at what he does. He did a phenomenal job. I love kids. I’ve always loved trying to motivate and inspire young people. And to be around young kids – in fact, I have five grandchildren of my own. In fact, I’m taking them to a baseball game right now. … I love young people so it gave me an opportunity. Plus, the big thing that I did was to raise money for pediatric cancer. All my proceeds, every dollar I would make – every dollar – from the book is going to pediatric cancer.

The book was a fun thing to do. It’s done really well. … They just had recently “Dick Vitale Day” at the All Children’s Hospital in Tampa. I read to a bunch of little kids because a buddy of mine bought 400 books to give out to all the kids. So they had me read to the kids. If you go to my website – – you’ll see these kids are beautiful kids! Four, five, six, seven years of age and I was reading to these kids and (they’d jump and dance around) and I learned later that these kids have brain tumors, leukemia, tumors on the spine. It brings you to tears because no child should be doing chemo or radiation. They should be out playing or having a ball or going to see their favorite teams like my grandchildren are doing now. That’s one of the reasons why I did the book and one of the reasons why I’m really on a crusade to raise as much money as I can for cancer.

In fact, we’re going to be honoring Calipari along with Roy Williams of North Carolina for my Dick Vitale Gala. We’re going to raise a million dollars on May 20 (at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, Fla.). We’ve done it five years in a row. One year we honored Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan. This year we’re doing Calipari and Roy Williams, and we’re going to raise a million dollars for kids battling cancer. (Note: The Vitale Gala annually raises money for The V Foundation in honor of Dick’s good friend, the late Jim Valvano. For more information, see Vitale’s website.)

Dick VitaleSpeaking of charity, you’re coming to Louisville to speak at the Celebrate Freedom Dinner benefiting The Healing Place. What’s the message you’ll give?

My message is basically one of “have pride.” I’ll talk a little bit about perseverance, a little bit about respect, a little bit about making intelligent decisions in one’s personal life. I’ll talk about desire, dedication, discipline of body and mind. I’ll talk about “E” for enthusiasm, and I’ll talk about energy. And I’ll talk about living each day of your life in the most positive way. Think positive, have faith. I’ll talk about my definition of winning. … I’ve been very proud that people have called upon me to speak all over this country and share some of the things I believe in.

I’ll share stories of my background. I’ll talk about my mother and father, who were uneducated but had a doctorate in love. They taught me about this great country. If you have passion and enthusiasm, a lot of great things will happen. …  My mother and father, they were the ones who inspired and motivated me in my life. They taught me in their own uneducated way – a very simple philosophy: If you’re good to people, people will be good to you. If you do things with lots of spirit and enthusiasm, which used to be my mother’s message, a lot of good things are going to happen – and how accurate she was. I’ll talk about making choices. It’s very simple: Make good choices, good things happen. Make bad choices, bad things happen. Sounds like I’m giving you my speech right now. (Laughs).

I’ll take it, that’s for sure. You’ve said before, “I may not always be right, but no one can ever accuse me of not having a genuine love and passion for whatever I do,” but do you ever think about doing something else?

No. I love what I do. I absolutely eat, sleep and drink basketball, sports and to make a living doing something I love, sit at courtside with the best games in America? I have a better record than Calipari, I have a better record than Pitino because I’ve never lost a game (during my) 32 years on ESPN. When I leave (the arena), I’ve always got a W, a win, man. I’m undefeated. (Laughs). I don’t have to put up with the pressure, the media scrutiny asking questions about why did you play this kid or that kid. No, I love what I’m doing. I love what I’m doing. I’m stealing money. Don’t tell my bosses. I’ve been stealing money for 32 years.

Dick Vitale

College basketball analyst Dick Vitale with Purdue Boilermakerfans prior to the Michigan State Spartans at Purdue game.

You’re also a good sport. Just watching your reaction to VCU creating the “Eat Crow Baby” banner after you expressed surprise that the university was given an at-large bid, you turned that into a positive instead of lashing out. Not only did you take it in stride, but you offered to autograph the banner, which will be signed by VCU coach Shaka Smart and his players before it is auctioned off to raise funds for the V Foundation. You also took to your Twitter account and tweeted a photo of yourself wearing a VCU sweatshirt along with the message: “Who said VCU did not belong? That guy better EAT SOME CROW BABY.”

I think that in life, why have a chip on your shoulder? Why be angry? Why be mad? People are entitled to say what they want, but I learned early in life to never hold a grudge, never be angry at people. Today’s a new day, start with a new outlook in life. Treat every day special, man. That’s what I try to do: Treat every day special. It’s a special moment from the moment I get up.

My wife, Lorraine, used to always tell me that, and I tried to instill that in our daughters, who are a lot brighter than me. In fact, I’m pretty lucky that they took after their mother both intellectually and physically. … I just really love people. I’ve always been a people guy. Al Maguire used to always tease me and call me “All Lobby.” He’d say, “Dicksie” – he never called me “Dick” – he’d say, “Dicksie, you’re ‘all lobby,’ man. You sit in the lobby and if nobody recognizes (you), (you’d) put a sign up that said, ‘Hey my name is Dickie V. Please say hello.’ ”  I could never understand why players and coaches don’t want to sign autographs and would be bitter and angry. What? What do you gain by that?

Contact writer Angie Fenton at or 502.551.2698.

Celebrate Freedom Dinner

Sponsored by Brown-Forman
Benefiting The Healing Place
Thursday, April 14
Louisville Marriott Downtown

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Category: The Profile

About the Author (Author Profile)

Angie Fenton
Angie Fenton is Managing Editor of The Voice-Tribune, a Blue Equity company. She is also an entertainment correspondent for WHAS11′s new morning show, “Great Day Live!”, which debuted August 22 on Louisville’s ABC affiliate. Additionally, Angie is an entertainment correspondent for the Saturday Morning Show with Ron ‘n’ Mel Fisher on 84WHAS (840 AM) and has served in the same capacity for Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks; Breeders’ Cup; and Circuit of the Americas during the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix in November 2012. Angie also serves as an emcee, host, voiceover professional and on-camera commercial talent.

Angie has a bachelor’s and master’s in English from Central Michigan University and began her career as an adjunct professor at her alma mater. She is the youngest of five — four of whom were adopted, including Angie, and none of whom are biologically related. She is also a Michigan native who moved to Kentucky in June 2002. Angie is owned by two dogs — Herbie and Yoda — and feels lucky to have loved and been loved by many more, including Pooch, Jessie, Onyx, Jack and Big Bud, who took his last breath on Christmas Day 2012.

Comments (2)

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  1. Tony Cornish, Jr. says:

    Great article on Mr. Vitale! At 71 years young, this talented man is a true dynamo. A great inspiration to all of us who think we have no time to simply…give our best…to great causes in need! He is a true Hall Of Famer in every sense!

  2. Mike from Union says:

    Mr. Vital, you are a true legend and gentleman. Now, for your contributions to college basketball……..Thank you, sir.