Dick Vitale suspected he would cry prior to tipoff of Tuesday night’s marquee showdown between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA.
The Hall of Fame college basketball analyst was spot on. The tears flowed right away as the lights turned on following the starting lineups in a rematch of last season’s historic Final Four showdown.
Vitale is back on the sidelines calling the sport he’s been announcing for 43 years between chemotherapy to treat his lymphoma, diagnosed in October. Doctors initially diagnosed Vitale with bile duct cancer and the 82-year-old thought his times of yelling “awesome, baby!” were over.
“I didn’t want to cry,” Vitale said on the ESPN broadcast alongside play-by-play man Dave O’Brien. “I can’t believe I’m sitting here. This is really a big thrill for me. I want to thank all you people sending me so many great messages. I want to thank my family and all the fans. You’ve been unbelievable.”
Vitale told USA TODAY Sports before the game that getting back to the sport he’s loved would serve as the perfect “medicine” and that he was “jumping with joy.” He’s been given the OK by his doctors to call games between his chemotherapy all throughout the 2021-22 season. A body scan on Nov. 29 will reveal his full course for chemotherapy treatment and whether to intensify the drugs.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, sitting by my second family,” Vitale said of the college basketball community.
Said ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro prior to the game: “Given all that he’s going through, this is especially meaningful for Dick to be back calling games. He has our full support, and we can’t wait to hear his unmistakable combination of energy and insight.”
A longer, in-depth interview with Vitale will appear on sports.usatoday.com later this week.