Earlier this week, I did a USA Today story on 70-plus announcers/analysts who still are thriving in the business. Naturally a main focus was on Dick Vitale, 74 going on 17.
While talking to Vitale, he told a great tale on how he reluctantly got into broadcasting after being fired from the Detroit Pistons. It turns out a couple legends helped plant the seeds.
Here is video of that first ESPN game, DePaul-Wisconsin in 1979.
Here’s Dickie V on how he wound up behind the microphone.
The last game I coached (for Detroit) was in Lexington. We were playing Michigan (in the NCAA Sweet 16). We had a good team.
We’re at practice and there are three guys in the stands. Two of them are Curt Gowdy and John Wooden. I’m saying, “What is this?”
The third guy comes over and says, “I’m Scotty Connal, the head of production for NBC. We’re doing your game tomorrow.”
After practice, they all came down to listen to me give a talk to my team. Wooden and Gowdy, two Hall of Famers. Are you kidding me?
OK, then a couple of years later, after I get fired from the Pistons, I get a call. He says, “You won’t remember me, but I was with Curt Gowdy and John Wooden (in Lexington). When we left the arena that day, Curt and John said, ‘That guy has personality. You might want to give him a chance to do TV.'”
He said, “I want to give you a chance to do our first basketball game for ESPN.”
I said, “No, I’m going back to coaching in college. I made a mistake going to the NBA. I was on the fast track. I teaching sixth grade and seven years later, I’m coaching in the NBA. I belong in college basketball.”
Now all of the sudden, nobody’s calling me (with offers to coach). I’m depressed. I’m hanging around the house watching General Hospital. I’m driving my wife crazy.
(Lorraine) gets in my cage. “You’re not the first guy to get fired and you won’t be the last guy.”
Luckily, Scotty calls me back. My wife says, “Do the game. Go have fun.” She just wanted to get me out of the house.
My first game, I have no idea what’s happening. I’m walking the streets of Chicago. I had no idea about production meetings. I arrive about 1:15 before the game and they’re going crazy. This is ESPN’s first college basketball game.
They say, “Where have you been?” I say, “Scotty said, ‘All I have to do is talk about basketball.’ What else do you want me to do?'”
If you had told me when I came here 35 years ago, 12 Hall of Fames, 10 books, Cosby show…I pinch myself about the life I’ve been given. It has exceeded every dream.