Beloved college basketball analyst Dick Vitale broke down in tears Tuesday night, thanking hoops fans and returning to the mic just five weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.
His voice choked with emotion as soon as the lights and camera lit up court-side at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, ahead of top-ranked Gonzaga University’s 83-63 victory over No. 2 University of California, Los Angeles.
“It’s great being here, Dave. I didn’t want to cry,” Vitale told the audience and 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, sent me so many great messages. ESPN (company chairman) Jimmy Pitaro, all my buddies at ESPN. I want to thank, certainly, my family and all the fans, my, you’ve been unbelievable.”
Vitale, who had already overcome a battle with melanoma, was told on Oct. 12 that he had bile duct cancer and to prepare for an incredibly difficult path forward. A subsequent diagnosis found it wasn’t bile duct cancer but rather lymphoma, which has a much higher rate of survival.
“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, I never dreamt at 82 that I’d ever be court-side again, but to be here today, I’m sorry, I hope I don’t cause a problem out there, but I feel so emotional,” the tearful Vitale said.
O’Brien, his right arm wrapped around the popular ESPN personality known as “Dickie V,” told Vitale that no one would begrudge him a moment of emotion.
Vitale wiped his eyes and said: “The game is the big thing so let’s get this game going, talk some basketball.”
He’s best known for catch phrases such as “Awesome, baby!” for a great play and “Get a TO, baby!” urging a coach to call timeout to stem a potential decisive run.
The relentlessly upbeat Vitale tweeted a picture of himself leaving his hotel room before Tuesday’s game and told fans: “Don’t ever believe in can’t.”