Born: June 9, 1939
Town: Passaic, New Jersey
Richard J. Vitale was born June 9, 1939 in Passaic to John and Mae Vitale. When Dick was five he was poked in the left eye with a pencil and lost his vision. He attended East Rutherford High School, where he developed a deep love and understanding for basketball. He attended Seton Hall, graduating with a degree in Business Administration.
Dick’s first coaching job was at Garfield High School in 1963. A year later he was invited to coach at his old high school, and he stayed with the team until 1971, when he was hired as an assistant coach by Rutgers University. Dick’s first college coaching job came in 1973, at the University of Detroit. He did a good job, guiding the Titans to a 1977 NCAA Tournament berth at a time when the field only included 32 teams. During a 21-game winning streak in 1976–77, Detroit beat Marquette, the eventual winners of the 1977 national championship.
In 1978, the NBA Pistons tabbed Dick as their head coach. The team went 30-–52 in 1978–79, as star center Bob Lanier missed two months to injury. Dick was given a chance to redeem himself in 1979–80, but after a 4–8 start he was shown the door, replaced by Richie Adubato, another New Jersey native.
After his firing, Dick accepted an offer to be an analyst for the fledgling network ESPN. He knew nothing about TV, but his wife Lorraine encouraged him to try it until another coaching job came along. Veteran broadcaster Jim Simpson helped Dick polish off some rough edges and within a few years he achieved iconic status as a basketball color man. He would go on to call more than 1,000 games, with “Awesome, Baby!” his most popular catch phrase.
In 2008, Dick was enshrined in the basketball Hall of Fame’s broadcasting wing. A close friend of the late Jim Valvano, Dick has spearheaded fundraising for the V Foundation for Cancer Research.