Basketball Hall of Famer Dick Vitale, one of the sport’s most influential and dynamic personality in the history of sports television, has agreed to a new contract extension with ESPN that will carry through the 2018-19 season. The agreement will add an additional year to his previous extension, announced a year ago today, and will take Vitale, who started with the company in its first year (1979-80), to his 40th on ESPN.
Vitale will continue to be assigned to many of the network’s marquee games, including regular-season action primarily on ESPN and ESPN2, Champ Week coverage and the Men’s Final Four for ESPN International.
“Dick’s energy and love for basketball and life continue to be at the heart of his incredibly well-earned success,” said John Wildhack, ESPN Executive Vice President, Production and Programming. “Fans truly appreciate Dick’s engaging and entertaining style, and his continued work to fight cancer on behalf of The V Foundation is remarkable.”
Vitale added: “ESPN has been a vital part of my life. Completing the next three years of my contract will mean 40 years of hoops heaven. I have loved every moment, and it has been a thrill to be courtside and call some of the greatest games in the country, sitting next to some of the most outstanding play-by-play announcers you could ever want to work with. I can’t thank them, the producers and all of the people behind the scenes enough for giving me a life that’s exceeded any dream I’ve ever had. My goal is to be the first announcer ever to call a game and say “you’re awesome baby” at 100.”
Vitale joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season — just after the network’s September 1979 launch — following a successful coaching career. He called ESPN’s first-ever major NCAA basketball game – Wisconsin at DePaul on Dec. 5, 1979 (a 90-77 DePaul win). Since then, he’s called more than a thousand games.
Over the years, Vitale has been widely recognized for his work and his positive impact on others. Among the recent honors are: the National Sports Media Association Hall of Fame; the American Cancer Society’s Man of the Year Award for his dedication to cancer awareness; the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Court of Honor Award; Seton Hall University with the Humanitarian Award; the AutoZone Liberty Bowl with the Distinguished Citizen Award; and the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
Beyond the numerous awards he’s received for his work, including the sport’s highest honor in 2008 (Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee in the contributor category), Vitale has been celebrated for his many charitable contributions. He’s been an outspoken and passionate fundraiser and board member for The V Foundation for Cancer Research and has also worked closely with the Boys & Girls Club and Make-A-Wish, among other organizations.
While his knowledge, preparation and enthusiasm are unparalleled, his “Vitale-isms” have become part of the sports lexicon, including “Awesome, Baby!,” “Get a TO, Baby!” and “PTP’er.” Vitale, who has authored nine books, has been selected for nine halls of fame. In addition to TV, he contributes to numerous other ESPN outlets, including ESPN Radio, ESPN.com and more.
Vitale’s roots are in teaching the game he’s loved since childhood. Following college, he got a job teaching at Mark Twain Elementary School (Garfield, N.J.) and coaching junior high school football and basketball. He began coaching for eight years at the high school level in 1963, and in 1970, moved on to his first of seven years of college jobs with Rutgers and later University of Detroit. In May 1978, he was named head coach of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, the job he held prior to joining ESPN.