Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Opinion: Dick Vitale loves life, wife and Andrew Wiggins

Future Kansas University basketball player Andrew Wiggins, left, visits with ESPN’s Dick Vitale and Vitale’s twin grandsons, Jake and Connor Krug, after one of Wiggins’ high school games with Huntington (W.Va.) Prep.

Future Kansas University basketball player Andrew Wiggins, left, visits with ESPN’s Dick Vitale and Vitale’s twin grandsons, Jake and Connor Krug, after one of Wiggins’ high school games with Huntington (W.Va.) Prep.


— The irrepressible Dick Vitale was wrapping up a book signing on the eve of his recent induction into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame, and he was running late. NSSA president Dave Goren advised that he needed to get moving, and when that didn’t work, Vitale’s wife, Lorraine, took the baton.

He was behind schedule for his next obligation because I asked him what he thought of Kansas University basketball recruit Andrew Wiggins, and when he started talking about him, he couldn’t stop himself.

“I’ve been talking, what can I say?” Vitale said to Lorraine. “Why am I in the Hall of Fame? Cuz of my talking.”

Retorted Lorraine: “You’re going to miss the Hall of Fame if you don’t stop talking.”

Even that didn’t work. He continued to move his lips because next to urging people to go to “” to make a donation for pediatric cancer research, “even if it’s just a small donation,” conversing about a special young basketball talent is what most noticeably puts the always-on Vitale into overdrive.

“I live in Sarasota, so I went to Fort Myers to see him play,” Vitale said of Wiggins. “I went there with the idea that he can’t be as good as advertised, but I also had that same feeling when ESPN told me to do the first game that LeBron James was televised. I didn’t want to do the game on TV. I said we’re making the kid too big, too early. They said, ‘No, we want you to do the game with Bill Walton.’ ‘Bill Walton? We’re going to walk in that gym and make that kid’s head so big.’”

It didn’t take Vitale long to realize ESPN had made the right decision. There was no point in trying to stay quiet about a talent so outrageously advanced beyond his years.

“We did it,” Vitale said. “About three minutes into that game, I couldn’t believe what I was watching. I turned to Walton, and I said, ‘Hey Bill, I came here and I wondered if he was going to be as good as advertised. Forget about it. He is so much better than advertised.’ I watched him take five kids from Oak Hill, all signed Division I scholarship players, and he made them all look like they never played the game. The next day, I get pounded for being too positive about a young kid. I’d like to see those people now. Four MVPs in five years.”

In telling that story, Vitale wasn’t saying Wiggins would be as good as James, just that he believes that, like LeBron, Wiggins is better than advertised.

“Wait ’til you see his explosiveness,” Vitale said. “And what a great kid.”

Vitale drove with two grandsons, twins Connor and Jake Krug, from his home in Sarasota to Fort Myers to watch Wiggins play for his high school, Huntington (W.Va.) Prep.

“He’s for real,” Vitale said. “Explosive. Great first step to the basket. And a great disposition. Almost like

LeBron. He could care less if he gets 30. He just wants to win. Same with Wiggins. Not a kid who has to get the ball all the time. Just wants to win. My grandkids were sitting under the basket, and they couldn’t believe it. His jumping ability. Wait ’til those Jayhawk fans see this kid. They’re going to go nuts.”

Explosive. Wiggins, the Canadian sensation whose mother ran in the Olympics for Canada and whose father played in the NBA, sounds a little like Ben McLemore, eh? Vitale smiled a smile that suggested he didn’t think I quite was getting what he was telling me, a look that said this time he wanted me to listen to what he was saying and listen closely.

“McLemore’s really good,” Vitale said. “Very good. But this is another level. Another level.”

He nodded his head, as if to ask, “Now do you get it?”

Vitale said Wiggins asked him to meet with him after the game to impart advice. With his grandchildren listening, Vitale warned him about bloodsuckers who will angle to attach themselves to him.

“I told him, ‘Wherever you go to school is going to be a great school, but I want you to understand, a lot of people are going to be around you, nobody gives you anything without wanting something in return,’” Vitale said. “So make good decisions.”

Vitale said his gut tells him Wiggins will be able to do that: “I told him, ‘The one thing you have going for you is you have a mom and dad that have both been there. Both are superstars. They understand, so they can guide you.’ I said to my wife, ‘I can tell this kid is headed in the right direction.’”

The book signing drew to a close, and the woman at the cash register asked Vitale to personalize a copy of his latest book, “Getting a W in the Game of Life: Using my T.E.A.M. Model to Motivate, Elevate, and Be Great.”

“What’s the date?” he asks.

“June 9,” she said.

“Oh yeah, it’s my birthday,” he said on the day he turned 74.

Love at first sight

Later that night, Vitale took the microphone at a barbecue party and told the story of the night he first set eyes on his wife.

“All my buddies were young high school coaches, and we would gather at a singles club after their games Friday nights,” he said of a time when he was a young assistant basketball coach at Rutgers. “All of a sudden, one night we’re sitting at a table, and here comes these two young ladies, and they walk in wearing hot-pants and boots.”

Lorraine tried to stop him at this point. Too late. He continued: “They come strutting in the place in Ocean Park, N.J., and one of the guys said, ‘Oh my god, look at her.’ I said, ‘Guys, don’t even think about that redhead. She’s mine.’ And I asked her to dance.”

And she said no, thank you.

“Every guy here who’s ever asked a lady to dance, the most lonely feeling in the world is that no you get when you ask a woman to dance,” Vitale said. “I had to walk back, and they started busting me. They were giving high-fives, busting me. I said being the recruiter I was, I’m going back, I’m going back a second time, true story, she rejected me again. Finally, they were ragging on me so much I said, ‘Guys, I’m not a betting guy. I never bet. But put some money up right here. I guarantee I’ll get her to dance.’ I went back to her, and I said, ‘Look, I want nothing, nothing but a dance. Please dance with me. My buddies are betting me. In fact, I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll give you the money.’ I’ll tell you what. We danced, and we’ve been dancing 42 years.”

At the after-party back at the NSSA headquarters hotel, when his cell phone broke down, Vitale turned to Lorraine and to others for help, but always returned back to her to calm the waters. They’ll get it fixed, she assured him.

“He never goes anywhere without his phone,” Lorraine said.

One night later, George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN from November 1998 through 2011 and now executive chairman, introduced Vitale at the colorful commentator’s 12th hall-of-fame induction. Bodenheimer and Vitale, a forever-linked pair of underdog American success stories, first became friends when Bodenheimer worked as a mail-room clerk at ESPN, and one of his duties was driving Vitale to and from the airport.

“Of course,” Bodenheimer said, “behind every successful man is a surprised woman.”

Pediatric cancer

Vitale’s speech, as with every one he does, zeroed in on the need for everyone in the audience to do what he or she can to help in the funding of the fight against pediatric cancer. He mentioned that the Dick Vitale Gala has raised $10.3 million in eight years. Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, singled out by Vitale for his generosity, was honored along with former UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun and former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden in May. The gala, Vitale said, raised $1.7 million.

In carrying the torch for the late national-championship coach Jim Valvano, Vitale, fellow broadcaster and former coach Bob Valvano (Jim’s brother) and countless others involved with college basketball have joined the fight. Vitale’s is the loudest, but not the only voice. He never apologizes for his volume.

Spending parts of two days with Vitale confirmed suspicions that he is one of those rare people blessed with a kind enough heart to treat everybody the same, treat everybody well, make everybody in his path feel important.

“Nobody has more fun broadcasting than me,” Vitale said. “If you don’t believe me, come with me to a game and watch me. And watch the kids. I may be 47 in reverse, but I act 12, and I’m going to continue to act 12.”

If you don’t like that, he welcomes you to change the channel, as long as you first visit or and follow instructions on how to make a donation.


KEITHMILES05 6 years, 9 months ago

Back in the day Vitale was great but he is now a raspy blow hard. Time to get off the air.

actorman 6 years, 9 months ago

I tell you what: I'm one of those who can't stand to listen to Vitale do games any more, as I feel like his act has worn thin. But as a person, there can be no doubt that he's a genuinely great, caring, compassionate man, and I have great admiration for him.

And man, I can't STAND having to wait several more months to see Wiggins play. It should be a hell of a year!

Gary Wirsig 6 years, 9 months ago

Completely agree on all points , actorman.

Ron Prichard 6 years, 9 months ago

Perfect, classy post. Succinct, to the point, and respectful while still expressing your opinion. Nice job, actorman.

Brad Farha 6 years, 9 months ago

couldn't agree more. Vitale has been a great ambassador for the sport, but he's evolved into a caricature of himself. Can't stand it when he does a game now.

ku_foaf 6 years, 9 months ago

I can understand the feeling and many people share it, I happen to get a kick out of old Motormouth, even after 30 years.

He is a very nice, compassionate man. My wife met him in the Atlanta airport once and my daughter asked for an autograph. He was very nice.

My favorite quote (1987 or so) was Vinny Del Negro transferring from Indiana (Bob Knight) to NC State (Jim Valvano): "That's like going from General Patton to Sargent Bilko!"

He and Valvano were buddies, both Italian descent from NJ who went to Rutgers.

REHawk 6 years, 9 months ago

Precisely the way I feel about Dick V. Good post, actorman.

Jenise Mick 6 years, 9 months ago

Absolutely agree actorman. I mute the games when he's announcing. Yep, Wiggins and the whole group should be a blast to watch!!

actorman 6 years, 9 months ago

BTW, do those grandkids look like Vitale or what???

Rock_Chalk_NYC 6 years, 9 months ago

He definitely has a face for radio... LOL

KansasComet 6 years, 9 months ago

It appears to me that Andrew Wiggins is interested in soaking up knowledge about the game of basketball. He will learn a lot from coach Self and his staff at KU. Everytime I read something about this young man, I like him more and more.

Greg Lux 6 years, 9 months ago

Ditto ... He appears to be not only special on the court but maybe even more special off. Also what AW has done for KU's future recruiting is nothing short of miraculous. His coming to KU demonstrates again that KU is the best per NBA school.

RJ King 6 years, 9 months ago

I liked Andrew from the start and took a wrath from a host of posters who speculated on his selfish motives and jumped to conclusions about his huge ego. Hopefully, as Andrew makes one leaping dunk after another, the mouths of these bashers will drop, but no sound will come out. They don't deserve the privilege of cheering for him.

Michael Auchard 6 years, 9 months ago

From all the things I've heard, I wish I knew someone in the athletic department. For the first time since I was a kid, I really just want to sit and watch practice.

Michael Auchard 6 years, 9 months ago

Nah, just an old joke. I'm not even trying to be irreverent.

nuleafjhawk 6 years, 9 months ago

I think Vitale and Keegan have a lot in common. People like to give them grief, not always with good reason. It's just the thing to do.

Vitale is a blowhard, no doubt about it. But he's an enthusiastic, knowledgeable blowhard who loves his job and is a decent man. If I was as enthusiastic about my job as he is about his, I'd be a bazillionaire. I'm not !

As far as Andrew Wiggins and KU basketball is concerned, October can not get here fast enough for me.

ku_foaf 6 years, 9 months ago

I do enjoy Vitale, but he will blabber about something he knows only from reading one line in a newspaper article, and sometimes it was wrong. That can be annoying. He tries to get up on the local information before he does a game.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 9 months ago

I appreciate him for the standing ovation he gave Collison from press row during his monster game his last season. What was it like 20 and 20? Most announcers would gush over the performance, but Dick was a true fan.

KemDooKU 6 years, 9 months ago

Ben may be a top five pick in the NBA this year and Dick V almost laughed when comparing him to Wiggins - Wow.... Wiggins must be pretty amazing

Aligned 6 years, 9 months ago

"Irrepressible". That's the best word I've ever seen used to describe Vitale.

Woody Cragg 6 years, 9 months ago

Went to one of his motivational speeches about 20 years ago & I swear, he hammered that mic for at least 45 minutes, never took a drink of water, & barely drew a breath. Although I find that chatter annoying during a game, he really is a quite knowledgeable speaker at the podium. Also at the cocktail party prior, seemed to be an authentically gentle & polite soul. But man can he ever get on your nerves calling a game! This should be a fun year to watch the JBirds even if we have to mute the tv on occasion.

Preston Dwiggins 6 years, 9 months ago

I always ask myself that question...would i rather have McLemore back or Wiggins this year. Each day I like my choice of Wiggins more and more. I am going to be a proud Jayhawk seeing him be a legacy in the NBA knowing he's a Jayhawk for life. He could not have joined a better school for tradition and fans.

Bryce Landon 6 years, 9 months ago

If he takes us to a national title like Anthony Davis did Kentucky, then yes, we will be fortunate.

kevinatc 6 years, 9 months ago

Dick Vitale is a front runner. He is for who ever is winning. However he slobbers all over the ACC and especially Duke and that makes me want to hurl. I did not need to see him on a KU Sports web site.

Tony Bandle 6 years, 9 months ago


1] Sorry Duke..I think Dickie just picked a new favorite team!!

2] I really don't believe the level of play is a "huge" gap between BenMac and Andrew..however, I think the level of confidence and aggressiveness is a gap of Grand Canyonesque proportion.

3] I second my friend Ralster's comments..I had a personal discussion with Dick in the Lawrence Holiday Inn about 20 years ago. He was charming, rational and totally under control. He told me the same thing...his schtick is an act required by the network. He then laughed and said, " it kind of bothers me once in a while, until I go to the bank and cash the checks!!"

4] The expectations are out of control..a friend of mine in the AD Dept. called me said one of the oldtimers there said, next to Wilt, Andrew Wiggins is the best player he has ever seen at Kansas...and this was after only ONE SCRIMMAGE!!!

5] I am sure that many of you will agree with me that Andrew playing alongside Wayne and JO JO had to have been a tremendously positive influence on his Kansas Committment.

6] I saw that Dr. Naismith's boyhood home was up for David Booth, buy it, move it to the KU campus and put The Rules in there!!!

7] Between Doc Naismith and Andrew Wiggins, KU owes Canada a boatload of gratitude.

8] And speaking of gratitude, thanks to Andrew's parents for helping him make the right decision..and, yes, Calipari and his UK operation is covered in slime.

Greg Lux 6 years, 9 months ago

Everything I have read and heard says AW made the decision totally on his own and his parents didn't find out until they arrived for the announcement. Thank you Andrew for putting your trust in Kansas, you won't be disappointed.

Rock Chalk

DCLawHawk 6 years, 9 months ago

Boatload of gratitude? Since it's Canada, maybe that should be trainload. Or we could say that the pipeline from Canada to Kansas has been pretty special.

Allen Shepard 6 years, 9 months ago

get the pipeline out of here.... Keystone XL is an abomination

ku_foaf 6 years, 9 months ago

Well, I'm glad he brought the expectations back down to earth!

always_correct 6 years, 9 months ago

Yet another underwhelming article from Mr. Keegan. Keep up the good work, ol' chap. Perhaps HR at the World Company should check whether Keegs actually attended writing classes during college.

LaFriends 6 years, 9 months ago

Leave Dick alone! ;)

Super-nice guy, and variety is the spice of life.

Robert Ramp 6 years, 9 months ago

Do the reporters have an opportunity to watch any scrimmages or see Wiggins playing with/against other members of this year's squad? I would be interested to see how he looks so far.

jakejayhawk 6 years, 9 months ago

Keegs, one of your finest articles. Great content, easy flow, and lots of information. Thanks for feeding our addiction!

dinglesmith 6 years, 9 months ago

I used to despise Dickie V. He could work Duke and K into any conversation during any game. As an 80's KU alum, I had particular contempt for Duke basketball and thus particular contempt for Coach K's biggest cheerleader.

My feelings about Vitale changed dramatically when I realized he's just a fan and he uses whatever notoriety he has for good things - cancer research is but one example. He is relentless about that and he is not a hired shill. He believes in it, gives it is time, and his resources.

I also remember a game years ago where a kid made a half court shot at halftime for free tuition. It was on the Sports Center intro for quite awhile. Dickie V made a big production beforehand about picking up the books if the kid made the shot. I happened to know the student and asked him about it. Sure enough, Vitale showed up at his apartment by himself with his checkbook. Wrote the guy a check, took he and his roommates out to dinner, and spent the evening yacking with them about basketball and life. No cameras, no reporters, just him.

Also remember Vitale showing up at the UDK sports desk after a reporter wrote a scathing editorial about him. Just showed up to talk to the kid and try to make is point. Again, no cameras, no reporters (outside the UDK), just him.

Vitale still annoys the heck out of me when he calls a game. However, I find him much more tolerable knowing that his heart is at least as big as his mouth.

actorman 6 years, 9 months ago

Thanks for sharing, dinglesmith. It just confirms what I said above about admiring DV as a person.

Bryce Landon 6 years, 9 months ago

Am I the only one who doesn't find Vitale annoying? That distinction belongs to Billy Packer. Thank the Lord that Packer is gone.

actorman 6 years, 9 months ago

I'm right there with you about Packer, Jayhawk. That's the one negative about the 2008 title -- that Packer waited a year too long to retire, and thus any time I watch the video I have to suffer through his idiocy.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 9 months ago

Horrible announcing in '88, but I love to listen to it to realize that he is just wrong.

The only redeeming thing about '08 was that he at least admitted that he screwed up some of his comments about KU that night 20 years earlier.

DCLawHawk 6 years, 9 months ago

I'm with you on Packer BUT I did love the fact that he called the semi-final game against UNC over in the first half! That was priceless to hear coming from such an ACC homer.

Paul Mitten 6 years, 9 months ago

A lot of KU fans seem to hate Dick Vitale, saying he's a Duke/UNC homer or whatever, but do none of you remember the night he gave Nick Collison a standing ovation?

Paul Mitten 6 years, 9 months ago

p.s. I'm not saying that he doesn't get a little annoying from time to time, but to suggest that he never gives KU any credit, or that he begrudgingly does so... I don't remember him giving any UNC or Duke players a standing O.

actorman 6 years, 9 months ago

You're right about that, honey. The only other standing ovation he's given was to David Robinson at Navy.

I find his schtick annoying, but I've always thought the "UK/Duke homerism" thing is a bit overstated.

JayHawkFanToo 6 years, 9 months ago

I was at that game with my son, 4th row aisle behind the KU bench. Best seats in the house and best college basketball game I have seen in person.

Big_Dipper 6 years, 9 months ago

While Vitale can get a little annoying at times, I find his enthusiasm great. I mean, he's different than a lot of other commentators. Some of them say the same things over and over like a broken record, a la Knight. That gets really boring to me. I mean seriously, how many times are they going to ask the same question... down by 3 with a few seconds to go... foul or play defense? There's other examples as well. That was just the first that came to mind. At least Vitale has the energy and can make games even more exciting than they already are.

P. S. Still remember the standing ovation for Collison...

P. P. S. Think Dickie V will announce more KU games this year with Wiggins and get out of ACC country?

P. P. P. S Looks like has a new picture of Wiggins they can finally use besides the other they have used repeatedly.

jaybate 6 years, 9 months ago

Keegs, thanks for doing the dirty work for us of sucking up and building bridges with Vitale and ESPN. Constructive engagement with an opponent is necessary, at the same time he short changes us and we beat his brains out for him doing it. You started at ESPN, so you have some history with them. Dick and ESPN need access to Wiggins and they likely need to reequilibrate to a new, less aymmetric sneaker power relationship between Nike and adidas. You are in a perfect position to throw rthem a bone, after Bilas broke ranks and built a bridge with us first in his apparent daring enterprise to break the stonewalling of KU. All sea changes in strategic relationships turn on many small tactics like yours and Bilas'. ESPN and Nike apparently understand that Adidas and KU are not going away. And I reckon ESPN and Nike understand Blackstone (or whatever they are called) was buying up stock in adidas in a big way the last time I looked. No one wants to get on the wrong side of them. Wigs is at KU. Adidas increased its cash to KU. blackstone likes adidas. Something has changed, at least for now. Constructive engagement is now an appropriate coin of the realm.

Rock Chalk!!!

Hammertoe 6 years, 9 months ago

The Mute button was made for Dick Vitale. Him and Bobby Knight. I can't believe a couple of dinosars like them are still making a ton of money in college basketball.

joeloveshawks 6 years, 9 months ago

Vitale is tough sometimes and especially when Duke is playing or any ACC team for that matter. Knight is in a different league, though. He has an uncanny ability to turn my favorite sport into an unwatchable game with his commentary. I am shocked that ESPN pays him money to call games. When I find out that Knight is calling a KU game I always say the same word to myself...

JayHawkFanToo 6 years, 9 months ago

I bet many posters don't know that Vitale was a High School and Div.1 College Head Coach, Div. 1 Athletic Director and NBA Head Coach.

One thing he got wrong is that LeBron does not care if he scores 30 points; he absolutely does.

One thing he got right is warning Wiggins about "bloodsuckers who will angle to attach themselves to him;" perhaps a veiled reference to the squid?

Scott Smetana 6 years, 9 months ago

I'd take Vitale anyday over Brent Musberger or Digger Phelps.

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