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Alzheimer’s fight is personal for CBS’ Jim Nantz

After his father died of Alzheimer’s’s in 2008, Jim Nantz III was so torn that he knew he had to get involved in trying to help find a cure for the disease that has killed millions.

So in 2011, Nantz and The Methodist Hospital in Houston launched the Nantz National Alzheimer Center, which was named after his father, Jim Nantz Jr.

“It’s a research center that also has clinical care as a part of it and they do an exceptional job on that,” Nantz said. “I obviously refer people from all over the country to come down to Houston and meet with our team of doctors there, but the mission statement is an easy one.”

Nantz will be working his 29th Final Four this weekend — the 24th as a play-by-play announcer — at AT&T Stadium. But while he’s busy with his basketball duties, Nantz believes it’s his duty to do what he can to assist in fighting Alzheimer’s so others won’t have to experience what he and his family experienced.

“Really, outside of my family goals, that is one of the biggest reasons I’m on the planet, I feel, is to have this platform that I have been blessed to have with CBS and be able to help steer people toward, not only awareness, but also to help raise money and to get on the path to finding a cure to Alzheimer’s,” Nantz said. “Whether it’s through vascular disease or whether it’s through concussion-related traumatic brain injury that creates dementia, we do all facets of it and privately lead the way in research, not only nationally but around the world.”

Nantz recalls working his first Final Four at Reunion Arena in Dallas in 1986 during a time when he was a 26-year old studio host for CBS. His dad drove from Houston, but only for the Friday basketball practices and to proudly watch his son go through rehearsals.

Later that night, the NCAA committee threw a welcoming barbecue for the folks at CBS at the legendary Southfork Ranch in North Dallas. When a CBS director asked Nantz where his father was, he told him he had driven back to Houston because he didn’t have a ticket to the Final Four games.

“You did ask for a ticket, didn’t you?,” Nantz said the director asked him. “And I said, ‘Well, I didn’t know I could ask for a ticket.’

“He said, ‘Look, you’re going to be at this network for a long time. You’re hosting the Final Four. All you had to do was ask somebody. It was your father. They would have gotten him in.’”

Some 28 years later, Nantz said: “My father has been gone now for six years. I don’t have any regrets in my career, but that’s the one I would love to be able to have back again.

“I would love to have had my dad at that Final Four in Dallas. I didn’t know — I was so young — that I was allowed to ask for a ticket at CBS.’’

Nantz, of course, corrected his faux pas the following year as his father attended the Final Four in New Orleans in 1987.

“And he was there for many others after that,’’ Nantz said. “The last one would have been in ’98 in San Antonio.

“He ended up surviving another 10 years after the ‘98 Final Four, but by the ‘98 Final Four my dad was in the third year into a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and it was a real question mark whether or not it would be a good idea to bring him to a setting that’s loud and with that many people around. I had my mother, my sister and my brother in law, Don, at the game and my dad was insulated from anything that would have been awkward or inappropriate — I was just trying to protect my father’s dignity.”

In 2008, Nantz wrote a book titled: Always By My Side — A Father’s Grace and a Sports Journey Unlike Any Other. In it, among other things, Nantz tells how people he’s met over the years remind him of the virtues his father taught him.

“There was such a strong reaction and outpouring from people about the book that could relate to the book,’’ Nantz said. “I thought the book galvanized the community a little bit, people who are members of the Alzheimer’s community and the care-giving community.’’

Alzheimer’s, and what it did to his family, indeed changed Nantz and his outlook on life. For him, it’s truly personal.

“I want to see a difference in our lifetime,’’ Nantz said, referring to Alzheimer’s. “I want to be able to get our hands around this insidious disease and find a way to ultimately one day find a treatment and, of course, even better, one day find a cure.”