Editor’s note: In October 2021, ESPN college basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale announced he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He faced six months of chemotherapy, but he continued to be a presence in the sport he loved. In April 2022, Vitale rang the bell. He was cancer-free. At the 2022 ESPYS, 29 years after helping his friend Jim Valvano to the ESPYS stage, Vitale was honored with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance.
This speech has been lightly edited.
Tonight I have been in awe. Awe. … I am in awe when I saw Albert Pujols, or Gretchen [Evans], or Vitali [Klitschko]. And if you’re not in awe, something’s wrong. I am in awe of all of the athletes that are here today and the greatness that you possess. The greatness is unbelievable. You should be so proud.
I think there is one little formula that I believe in so much growing up as a kid. I was sitting there and I was thinking about it and it really reflects what is in the room and it reflects what you are about. Passion. How many times did we hear the word passion today? You couldn’t be a star, Aaron [Donald], without passion. Cooper [Kupp], right down the line, Megan [Rapinoe]. All of you great giants that are here, Draymond [Green], the great Warriors team. If you didn’t have a passion, you take that passion plus pride. I often have said pride in a person is the ability to persevere and to respect all of the competition and fear none. An eye for intelligence. The ability to make intelligent decisions. The book intelligence, I’m not talking. I am talking intelligent decisions away from the arena and competition. Making intelligent decisions in your personal life. I think about pride.
I think about the four D’s: desire, dedication, determination, discipline of body and mind. The ability to have the drive, and the desire, at the crucial moment when you have to perform like you did. Cooper, to break my heart as the season-ticket holder of the Tampa Bay Bucs, you, Mr. Donald, what you did to my guy, [Tom] Brady. I cried my eyes out leaving that stadium. I couldn’t believe it the way they came back. And I said, “Here we go, baby. Uncle Mo is on Tom Brady’s side.” That means we are winning this, baby. All of a sudden you go for like 60 yards, touchdown and we are brokenhearted. But you see, you are a committed person with pride. Pride, what I call enthusiasm, excitement and energy. The three D’s of life. You have that, you are going to win.
Back on March 4, 1993, I stood here and I introduced, at Madison Square Garden, at the very first ESPYs, my buddy Jimmy V. If you only had heard Jimmy V the night before you would never, ever believe or dreamed he could stand there and give his speech. That’s why I stood to the side, as Jon Hamm said, I stood there because I thought he would simply say “thank you” and sit down. I called him up the night before at the rehearsal, I said, “Jimmy, Jimmy, you can’t believe what you are going to do tomorrow night. It is going to be unbelievable, better than I ever thought.”
You could barely hear his words. “Dick, Dick, you think I give a s— about an award? I am not going to see Lee Ann, Jamie, Nicole — my daughters graduate. I am not going to be able to see them walking down the aisle. It’s over, man.” I am trying to pick his spirits up.
“Jimmy, you gotta come man.” I am like, “You have to come. You have to come.”
We came on a plane the next day with Mike Krzyzewski, his wife, Jimmy’s wife, Pam. Mike tells me the next day as they arrive in New York. He said he is throwing up all over the place, sick as a dog. So now we are in the arena and he is sitting right up front. And I tried to grab one of the production assistants and say why don’t you bring a mic to him. He can sense something is going on. So he said, “come over here man.” So I come over and he said, “What are you doing?” I said I am going to make it easy for you.
And Jimmy had some choice words. He told Mike and I just get me on the effing stage. Get me on that stage. We got him on that stage. I was mesmerized, blown away as he electrified the nation, and that speech, “Don’t give up … don’t ever give up,” has created why we are here today.
We have raised $300 million in his name. Think about that — $300 million! Think about that. Think about his legacy. His legacy is a true legacy. Oh he cut the nets down. And coaches dream of that, he won the national championship.
I said there are three major factors that have made the V Foundation jump like they have and become such an incredible, incredible first-class foundation because every dollar that is donated goes to research because, as a member of the board I can tell you this, we have, are you ready for this, a 40-million-dollar, 40-million-dollar endowment that all of the administrative costs are paid for. So every dollar, when I go out and beg, I am not going to beg and plead your money is going to pay this or pay that one. It all goes where it should go, to help people battling that dreaded disease.
So Jimmy, to me, the first thing that gave him the popularity is winning the national championship. Beating a great team. A great team … Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Houston. Nobody gave North Carolina State a shot. But you can talk to Jimmy and his guys. There they are. Derek [Whittenberg], who does a great job with us on the board, had the “Survive and Advance” documentary. That is terrific. And there he is, unbelievable. And the job that he did was fantastic. And he threw probably the greatest air ball, the greatest air ball in the history of basketball. And that air ball was caught by Lorenzo Charles who dunked that sucker and they won the national title. And Jimmy ran around the court looking for somebody to hug, looking to give some love and get some love. Well that moment gave him popularity on the national scene.
Then you combine that with his great speech. “Don’t give up … don’t ever give up.” And those two factors were major. There was a third factor that elevated the V Foundation. Jimmy’s family, his wife, Pam, his daughters all got involved. His brothers, Bobby and Nick, became the head of the V Foundation. For a while there he did a great, great job.
They are telling me to wrap it up. You know what, man? I am going to do what my guy Jimmy V did. You know what Jimmy V told when they said wrap it up? Giving that speech? He said “Va Fa a Napoli,” everybody. Are you kidding me? My guy Jimmy. I need a few more minutes. I got the boss over there, he is on my side, (ESPN president) Jimmy Pitaro, anyway, so I’m OK.
But anyway, the bottom line is the V Foundation started to move big time. Big time. Making $300 million. What a legacy. What a legacy. A legacy that you can have an unbelievable effect on so many people battling cancer. And that is what Jimmy has done. Save lives. He will go on generation after generation and that is a great legacy to have.
I sit here and I tell you, obviously my case, it has been a tough eight months. It has been a journey that has been tough. Without my beautiful family and my wife — stand up, Lorraine. My wife Lorraine was the greatest recruit that I ever recruited. Man, she shot me down three times asking her to dance. You should have seen her. She is good-looking now. Fifty-one years ago, man, when she walked in the room, the eyes just went like that. They still do Lorraine, don’t get me wrong. She is a Hall of Famer. I’m in like 15 Hall of Fames. I can’t run. I can’t jump. I can’t shoot. I got a body by linguini. But I am in 15 Hall of Fames. My wife is truly the Hall of Famer in my family.
I want my whole family to stand up. My five grandchildren, my daughters, my grandsons. They play tennis. They play tennis at Duke University. My granddaughter, Sydney, she plays tennis at Notre Dame. And her brother is a lacrosse player at Notre Dame and then I got the fifth one who’s a high school junior in Ava. … But I overheard a conversation one day with them. And they were bragging about their 3.8s and 3.9s. And I heard that and I said “Hey that’s ridiculous. I was better than you guys.” I had a 4.0. And they said to my wife, they call her Lo, and they said, “Lo, no way Papa had a 4.0.” I said you are calling me a liar. I had a 4.0. 1.0 as a freshman. 1.0 as a sophomore, I had a 4.0.
I want to thank them, caregivers. As a caregiver, they were unbelievable for me. They took care of me like you couldn’t believe. I want to thank, certainly, unbelievable, the incredible love that I got from ESPN, my second family. Incredible. I think of Jimmy Pitaro, our boss. Treats me like royalty. Just beautiful, as the previous bosses were great as well. I think about all of my colleagues on and off the air have been so great sending messages. And if you, if you know someone that’s battling cancer, extend a message. Extend a prayer. So many times I laid in the hospital, and it was those messages that picked me up at the darkest moment. It gave me such a lift to say, you know, I am going to beat this, man. I hear Jimmy’s words in my head. Don’t give up, man. Don’t give up. I heard my mom. My mother and father were uneducated. Fifth-grade education. Had a doctorate of love. … I lost my eye as a kid as you saw in the video, my mother would say, “I don’t want no excuses. Richie, you can be what you want to be. You can be what you want to be.”
“Don’t bet against me.”
— ESPN (@espn) July 21, 2022
And I really can’t thank from the bottom of my heart all the people at ESPN. I thank my medical team. My medical team — Dr. Brown, all of the people at the hospital at the Jellison Oncology Center. They were fantastic. Fantastic. They treated me tremendously. So special. Dr. Kucera. Dr. Meredith. And then I had my vocal cord problems and I see him sitting there, Dr. Steven Zeitels. Stand up, Steven. Steven, to me he is the Stephen Curry, he is the Stephen Curry of the vocal cords. And, if you don’t believe me, call up Lionel Richie, call up Adele, call up James Taylor, call up Steven Tyler. I mean, it goes on and on. He even took care of the greatest maybe ever of all time. One of the famous people of all time when he was living, Muhammad [Ali], the champ. He operated on him as well. So I thank you, Steven. Thank you. Because, people I have to tell you this, 72 hours ago I was in his office, in Boston. I had not spoken for, well, it was a month. He did surgery on me the first time on my vocal cords back in, oh god, that was back on Feb. 15. Then he did surgery again on June 15. Incredible. That is only a month ago. I took six to eight weeks to heal. And he told me in his office and he called the president up as well. He said, “I am going to clear him to speak at the ESPYs. As long as he follows my instructions. He needs a few more weeks yet of a healing process.” I have what’s called precancerous dysplasia all over my vocal cords. I love you, buddy, and I thank you so much for making this happen for me today.
And they keep flashing wrap up. And I am going to wrap up in about three minutes. The bottom line is, the bottom line is, I want to thank the college basketball landscape, coaches. Oh, my god. Jay Wright, John Calipari. I could go on and on. Mike Brey, Tom Izzo. All these coaches. Rick Pitino, constantly messages regularly. Rick Barnes at Tennessee would send me a prayer. A prayer every day. For four months straight, I would get a prayer. A personal, personal prayer from him. Blew my wife and I away.
That love. That love. That caring. It has me standing here today. My wife as well, without her support and without her caregiving, I wouldn’t be here today. I really believe that. But you know what, I am here.
My last thought is very simple. I want to thank the V Foundation. Great job to be on that board. Russell [Wilson], you are going to love it and so is Ciara. You are going to love it. They are great, great people. And having you on the board is special. It is going to be special.
Bottom line is, they are people that care. They want to help others. And right now, my dedication to the people that know me, are kids. No kid or child should be doing chemo and radiation. I have dedicated myself to the point, as they said, we raised $55 million. It is not enough.
If you are able and if you are financially able, please I beg you. Only four cents out of every dollar in funding goes for pediatrics and that’s a crime. I can name kids here to you. I can name a Payton Wright. She lost her life. I watched her become blind. I watched her become blind and paralyzed and ultimately die. I went to the funeral. It tore my heart out watching the mom and the dad put their beautiful little girl to rest. I was thinking of Tony Colton. Tony had a spirit like you couldn’t believe. Tony, Tony passed away. I was at his bedside at the hospital when he was terminally ill, seeing the tubes all in him. A good-looking kid, 16 years old at the time. It just broke my heart. And he called me to his bed, and he whispered, and I could barely hear him, and he said “Mr. V, Mr. V, please help those kids. Don’t let them suffer like me.” I said, “Tony, until my last breath I will beg and plead for dollars.”
“We are not go to stop, stop chasing the dream of raising dollars and your dream, Jimmy’s dream was to beat cancer. And we must do it.”
So, people out there, go to V.org and make a donation. I think of all of the beautiful kids’ names … I think of Mikari Tarpley, Hodgkin’s disease. Coleton Korney, they mean nothing to you. But to me they do. They come to my gala every year as the Dick Vitale All Courageous Team. Courage like you cannot believe.
So I close with this to you. I close. I have a message. Jimmy, my man up there. I know in spirit you are up there with Stuart Scott, John Saunders — I love those guys. All gone so early. I know you’re hosting a hoops party. John Thompson, you got Rollie Massimino, and all you gathering, watching what we are doing or thinking about us. I will tell you this Jimmy V, my man. We are not go to stop, stop chasing the dream of raising dollars and your dream, Jimmy’s dream was to beat cancer. And we must do it. Because it doesn’t discriminate. It comes after all.
In fact, I want everybody in the room that knows somebody they love, knows somebody in their family or maybe themselves that has battled cancer to please stand.
Take a look at the room. It doesn’t matter — race, religion. It will bring you to your knees. There is only one way to beat it, my friends. We have to raise dollars and give the oncologists a fighting chance.
I close by simply saying, “Keep chasing your dreams. Keep chasing your goals.” And to me, all of you in this room are special winners in the game of life and what you have done to pursue your goals. And remember, just remember, perseverance plus passion plus pride equals win in the game of life. God bless. Thank you.
ESPN and the V Foundation are committed to the fight against cancer. If you are able, please support cancer research by visiting V.org/donate.