October 19, 2014

Florida Icon

Icon: Dick Vitale

Basketball coach, broadcaster, born 1939, Lakewood Ranch

Art Levy | 2/1/2010

Dick Vitale
[Photo: Mark Wemple]
» I lost my left eye as a kid. I poked it with a pencil. I was 3 years old. I can’t remember. My mother told me, ‘Don’t ever make excuses or feel sorry for yourself because so many people have it worse.’

» Tourism is great. The snowbirds come, but job opportunities are kind of limited in Florida. I would love to see more industry, more of the corporate world, to attract the young people.

» I learned about work ethic from my father. He never complained. Never. I can’t remember him ever saying he had a headache or the flu and couldn’t go to work. He got up at 6 in the morning and pressed coats. The more coats he pressed, the more money he made. Then he would come home, eat and put on his security guard uniform and work until midnight.

» He took me in the summer to work at the factory. My job was to feed him the coats. Driving home one day, my dad said, ‘Richie, Richie’ — everybody called me Richie back then — ‘you don’t want to do this. Richie, you’re so smart. You’ve got a brain, Richie. Get a good job. Don’t do what I do.’

» People come up to me when I’m having breakfast, and I don’t get annoyed at all. I love it. I love people. I get annoyed when I see a celebrity with a chip on his shoulder. Somebody comes over for an autograph and he says, ‘What are you bothering me for?’ What kind of attitude is that? I don’t understand.

» I don’t drink. My wife was telling people the other day she can’t remember the last time I even had a sip. I don’t say it’s wrong. As a kid I tried it. I never liked the taste, and I was never going to allow peer pressure to make me drink to be accepted.

» My mother had five brothers who were fanatical sports fans. My Uncle Mike, my Uncle Tom, my Uncle Frank, my Uncle Joe, my Uncle Sam, all five of them were factory workers. They would talk sports. They knew every statistic. They’d fight and argue. Who is the best centerfielder? Mantle or Mays or DiMaggio? I think my uncles helped form the passion I have for sports.

» After I was fired from the Pistons in 1979, I get a call from Scotty Connal, and he said he was just named the head of a new network and he wants me to do its very first big college basketball game, DePaul and Wisconsin. I said, ‘ESPN? It sounds like a disease. I never heard of it, and to be honest with you I know nothing about television.’ About a week later, he calls and asks again. If it weren’t for my wife, I wouldn’t have done it. She told me I was violating everything I ever preached. I was sitting at home. I was watching ‘General Hospital.’ Luke and Laura. I was depressed. I had gotten fired. I thought it was the end. My wife said, ‘You’re not the first to be fired. You won’t be the last. Why don’t you go do the game and have some fun?’ So, I did the game.

» I don’t feel 70. You have to tell me I’m that number. I feel like I’m 25. When I start acting my age, I know the party is over.

» I have a ritual when I do a game. When it’s over, I watch the losing coach. I watch him walk to the locker room. I look at him and I say to myself, ‘Wow, what he has to face now.’ When I was a coach, I would let the losing get to me. If it wasn’t for ESPN, I would have been a college coach again, and I really firmly believe I would never had made it past 50. I couldn’t handle the losing.

» There are people who are going to love you, and some are not: ‘He talks too much. He’s loud.’ You can’t take that personally. You can’t please everybody, but one thing I’m proud of in my 30 years is I’ve never ever had a critic say, ‘He’s not prepared. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’

» I go to Siesta Key and walk the beach. I’ve been to Hawaii, Maui, beaches that have been rated so high. To me, there isn’t a beach I’ve been at that can match the white sand of Siesta Key.

» My parents were uneducated, maybe a fifth-grade education at best, but they had a doctorate of love.

» There’s a camera down my throat and the doctor says, ‘There’s your problem. You’ve got ulcerated lesions on your vocal cords, and they must come out — and I have to tell you, they could be cancer.’ Holy cow! To be honest with you, I cried like a baby. The one thing that has been so good to me — my voice — is now going to be the end for me.

» For two weeks, until the surgery, the fear of the unknown had me in a state of depression. I had the surgery. The doctor came out and said it’s not cancer, but it has to be monitored every four months to make sure the lesions don’t come back. It’s called Dysplasia. Dysplasia is precancer. If the lesions come back, we get them out.

» I want to give back. In fact, I’m banging my brain about that right now. I told my wife the other day — and I don’t know how to go about this — but I want to do something major before I pass on. I want to maybe build a place for kids, homeless kids. I want to do something special.

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