With his outsize persona and passion, Dick Vitale is hoops’ head honcho

03/18/2014 9:15 PM

03/19/2014 9:33 AM

The following has happened to all of us: We are in the same room with a celebrity and, in those however many seconds, he either makes a fan, or enemy, for life.

It’s 5 or 10 seconds to scribble his name on a piece of paper, to take a picture, extend a handshake, flash a smile or offer a “thanks for your support.” You will love him forever for his few seconds of kindness. A dismissive blow-off and you will hate him.

It’s a “I met them once. They’re so great!” or “They’re terrible; they blew me off.”

Twenty-plus years ago, I was a fawning teenager who was blown off not once but twice by Mr. Dick Vitale — the energetic voice of college basketball.

“Oh, you did?” he asked in that unmistakable Jersey accent when I recounted a pair of meetings he had zero reason to recall. “Oh, wow.”

The only thing missing was the flick of my chest he administered when I was 17. Then, he turned his back on me.

Dickie V was in the Stockyards on Tuesday for the Allstate March Mayhem Challenge in front of roughly 20 people as he led a one-ton steer picking the NCAA Tournament games.

It is unfair, but it has been hard to ever look at Vitale since and not recall those blow-offs. The difference was this time I had a microphone in my hand, and this man knows the game.

Kids, an important lesson from your Uncle Mark Ingle: Don’t judge any celeb should your paths cross for a few seconds; they have an impossible moving target to hit — assuming they care in the first place — and sometimes they don’t have time for us, or simply aren’t in the mood.

“I love people,” Vitale said. “I love people. I’m a hot dog, man. I’m a hot dog.”

Do not judge celebs for their relationship with the media, and don’t base anything on their ability to smile and shake your hand in any setting. Like you and me, the celebs we canonize are a giant canvas of colors, and the hue and shapes change depending on a variety of factors.

Maybe Vitale is a phony, fraud or used-car salesman who says “I love people” and plays it for the cameras. Chances are good someone as successful as Vitale has irritated a few people.

Maybe Vitale is completely sincere, and competition for his time is so fierce that receiving any of it is a big deal.

I don’t know, and frankly, the man has been great for the state of college basketball and it will miss him when he’s done.

Try to take the best of what these people offer; in Vitale’s case a tireless passion for his profession and for basketball. He offers a wonderful message on a good life.

“There is nothing greater in life than having fun,” Vitale said. “If one has their health, they are a billionaire.”

That message matters because he is right.

Vitale is 74. He has the energy of a 34-year-old man. He has embraced life at a time when many people his age check out.

He takes care of his body. He says he plays singles tennis three or four times a week. He says he gets seven hours of sleep. He works out on a weight machine, and walks a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour every day.

“Age is a number. I want to do this as long as God gives me the energy,” he said. “If I am physically not able to do it, then it’s over. If I am able physically, why shouldn’t I do it?”

Much like John Madden with the NFL, Vitale’s greatest contributions are off the court rather than on it. When Vitale retires, there is no replacement. He has spawned countless imitators and provided a trillion punchlines, because there is no one else like him.

He still commands a stage, can work a room or a camera, and knows his sport. He is good at his job.

Does he talk too much? Yes.

Is he a windbag? For sure.

Does it hurt anyone? No.

If you can focus on that part, the rest really doesn’t matter.

Anything above that, including a few more seconds of his time that in the end I probably didn’t need in the first place, is gravy.

Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at


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