Dick Vitale, cancer-free, makes college basketball announcing comeback in Indy tonight

Dick Vitale, an analyst and champion of college basketball for more than four decades on ESPN, begins to get his voice back as he recovers from cancer treatment and recent vocal cord surgery at home in Lakewood Ranch, Florida on Thursday, March 24, 2022.
Dana Hunsinger Benbow
Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS -- The feet are pounding on the bleachers and the crowd is screaming so loudly the headphones can't buffer the roars from Dick Vitale's ears. The energy. The magic. Those games. They seemed so far away.

Vitale was lying in a hospital bed alone in the dark after his family left for the night. The only light came from flashing blinks of the machines. Otherwise it was blackness. Vitale was battling cancer, he was sick from the chemotherapy and he was tired. Tired of the misery.

"Those were some dark moments, man, some really dark moments," Vitale told IndyStar last week. "I'm not thinking about basketball. I'm thinking about dying."

As Vitale laid there battling lymphoma earlier this year, after a fight with melanoma, the 83-year-old known in college basketball circles as ESPN announcer Dicky V, would think about those games and how much he loved them.

A photograph of a young Dick Vitale with his parents Mae and John Vitale in the family home in Lakewood Ranch, Florida.

He would also think about something his parents always said to him.

"They used to tell me all the time, 'Richie (the name his parents called him) don't you dare ever say, 'I can't,'" Vitale said. "'Can't' can't be part of your life."

His parents had to tell Vitale that. He needed to hear it. At four years old, Vitale became blind in his left eye after an accident with a pencil. The bullying from classmates was intense. He always felt different.

“Richie,” Vitale's mother, Mae, would tell him, “don’t let them get the best of you.”

In the hospital, Vitale also thought a lot about his friend and fellow sports broadcaster Jim Valvano, who died at the age of 47 in 1993 after a year-long battle with metastatic cancer. Valvano, better known as Jimmy V, founded the V Foundation before his death and was known for an inspirational phrase: "Don't ever give up."

"I would say to myself over and over again in the hospital, 'Don't give up. Don't ever give up,'" Vitale said. "I think the nurses thought I was wacky."

All Vitale wanted was the strength and spirit to live for his wife and daughters. He also wanted to live to announce another basketball game, to hear the roars and the feet pounding, to feel the energy that carried him through some of his darkest moments.

Dick Vitale

In Indy on Tuesday night, Vitale makes his college basketball announcing comeback on ESPN, calling the Kentucky-Michigan State game in the Champions Classic at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. It will be his first game since being declared cancer-free.

"It's going to be very emotional for me," Vitale said. "I hope I don't cry."

'The worst thing is I lost my voice'

Vitale's end of basketball announcing and his start of fighting for his life began after a scare with melanoma in August 2021.

"That was a real blow to me," Vitale said, "I beat that. Then all of a sudden out of the blue..."

Vitale started itching so badly that he was bleeding. Then his urine and stools changed colors. Vitale went to doctors for tests. They told him he had bile duct cancer, a rare and aggressive form of cancer in which cells in the body start to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer and then spread to other areas of the body.

The family was devastated, Vitale said. But then, some of the doctors decided to take a closer look at Vitale's scans. Physicians from all over the country were consulted, poring over Vitale's medical results.

"Finally, the phone rang and my doctor said, 'My friend, I have to tell you this. Santa Claus is coming for you. It is not bile duct cancer, it's lymphoma and curable,'" Vitale said. "I never thought I would be celebrating and crying over having cancer."

Feb 8, 2020; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; ESPN announcer Dick Vitale points to the fans before the Purdue Boilermakers play against the Indiana Hoosiers at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

But with this cancer, Vitale had a chance. It could be cured. And he was going to fight for that. It was one of the toughest things Vitale has ever battled. He started eight months of chemotherapy in October.

And then in December, Vitale's doctors found a precancerous dysplasia and ulcerated lesions on his vocal cords, requiring surgery. Doctors said he would have to sit out announcing basketball games for the rest of the season.

"The worst thing is I lost my voice," Vitale said. After his vocal cord surgeries, he couldn't speak for four months.

And so he sat silent and he battled -- through the lymphoma and those nights in the hospital. Then in August, doctors declared him cancer-free.

'So many people had it worse than me'

"This is the best medicine," Vitale says of his comeback, announcing for the Champions Classic. "You know what I feel like right now? I swear to god, I feel like I'm a little kid waiting for Santa to come down the chimney."

He is grateful, so grateful for all the messages the college basketball world, and beyond, sent to him as he fought cancer. Messages from Tom Brady, Magic Johnson, Robin Roberts and David Robinson.

And he has respect for "so many people who had it worse than me," Vitale said.

As he lay in the hospital, another thought came to Vitale. "I can't imagine, I'm 83 years old, I can't imagine kids going through all those scans and needles, those tests, the chemotherapy."

After all, long before Vitale was diagnosed with cancer, he had spent the past 17 years raising money for cancer research for children.

Vitale will be making his comeback Tuesday for himself, for his return to college basketball, but he will also be making it more for all the other cancer fighters and survivors.

"And the kids," he said.

Donate to Vitale's cancer research at

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