SI Vault
 
Mister Prime Time
Curry Kirkpatrick
November 19, 1986
If the ubiquitous Dick Vitale isn't the most influential person in all of college basketball, then surely he is the loudest and talkingest—and the one most likely to make some fans toss bricks through their TV screens
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 19, 1986

Mister Prime Time

If the ubiquitous Dick Vitale isn't the most influential person in all of college basketball, then surely he is the loudest and talkingest—and the one most likely to make some fans toss bricks through their TV screens

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Hey, America, I know what you're sayin'. Right now you're sayin' this isn't Q-P, Quite Possible. You're sayin', talk about your M-and-Mers, this is an alltime M-and-M, an unbelievable Mis-Match. You're sayin', this one has to make the All-CBH team, baby, the All-Can't Be Happenin' team. But I tell you what, without a doubt, we got a U-I-T-M here, an Upset In The Making. No question in my mind, baby. And all those people out there who said I-C-B-D, that It Couldn't Be Done, are F-O-E-T-H-O-N, Flat Out Eatin' Their Hearts Out Now. Because Roone, baby, my man, big fella, your highness, you may not be the B-S, the Big Shooter, in there anymore, but get a mountain of G-Ws, George Washingtons, and the champagne and the manicotti ready anyway, because, mark my words, take it to the bank, P-I-D, Put It Down, mail it in, you got yourself a G-W-C-H-T-J-I-T-C, a Guy Who Can Hit The J In The Clutch and, I gotta say it, don't get mad at me, Billy P, and don't get O-M-C, On My Case, Big Al, Fatha McGuir-ah, but I know you're sayin' that everybody is sayin'...I'm sayin' everybody, all those hoopdedoo addicts in H-L, Hoop Land, I mean everybody is sayin' that you're sayin' that I'm sayin' that the man's sayin' that I'm gonna be an S-F-S-B-J-I-T-P-T-T-S-A-T-S-D-S-P-T-P, a Sure Fire Slam Bam Jam In The Paint Top Tennah Surf And Turf Supah Dupah Star Prime Time Performahhhhhh.

Since everybody on the face of God's green earth does Dick Vitale, from NBC's Bob Costas to Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Fratello—why even the dearly departed Micheal Ray Richardson used to do Isiah Thomas doing Vitale doing Isiah: "Get the peas ready, mama, Isiah's comin' home"—the preceding paragraph just automatically rolled right out and word processed itself by osmosis. All things being relative, that would be considered a phenomenon only on a planet which had not yet heard, nor heard of, the extraordinary one-of-a-kind reproductive noise-maker, TV talent and basketball junkie, Mister P-T-P, Mister Prime Time Performah himself, Dialin' Dickie Baby Vitale.

O.K., O.K. John Madden is a phenomenon, too. But at least Madden has hair. And two eyes. Which work. His jaws sometimes obey commands from his brain. "Madden makes me look like Mother Teresa," Vitale defers. And Madden won a Super Bowl.

The only things little Richie Vitale ever won were a couple of lower-division high school championships back in New Jersey. Oh yeah, and the hand of the glorious serenity queen, Lorraine McGrath, who was wearing white hot pants and white boots and her flaming red tresses all down and splashy that night he drove up in his so very cool limelight green Bonneville and met her at the Blue Swan in Rochelle Park. And to think, nobody figured little Richie as a color guy!

Anyway, at first Lorraine didn't go for Richie's pitch, chuckled at him, wouldn't dance with him and boogied instead with a guy wearing white sweat socks. "She busted my chops," Vitale says. But sure enough he somehow found the path to her heart by precisely the same method he would later use to zero in on the consciousness of a sport. Merely by talking. No...not...like...this, of course. Butlikethis. By screamingandwhisper-ingandsputteringandlingoingandstutter-ingandbombastingandclicheingandbal-derdashingandscoopwhoop-de-doop-de-hoop talking.

You name it, and Vitale talks it. Is he ever at a loss for words? Words duck and take the loss in the face of Vitale. Is he ever shocked by anything? Vitale is shocked by everything. A ref throws up the opening tap in the Sun Belt, it's the beginning of civilization. A point guard slams in a fast-break rebound in the Metro Atlantic, it's the end of mankind as we know it. "Make every event the World Series," a veteran broadcaster once told Vitale. Little Richie thought he meant World War.

Basketball games pile up, merge and become engulfed in his mind's eye like so many of another of Vitale's (far lesser) passions: movies. Be there a big game-that is, any contest featuring five on a side, a ball and a hoop—and viewers are treated to Ben Hur meets Hellzapoppin' meets The Day of the Locust. Vitale's favorite current film is Peggy Sue Got Married, and when a reporter from Detroit recently asked him what was the biggest surprise of his life—Vitale is still a favorite in Motown long after he was unceremoniously dumped as coach of the Pistons after a 4-8 start in 1979—he answered: "When my wife said 'I do.' "

Hey, is this one simple, charming, sentimental schlemiel, or what? Do we know this guy? Do we know him without his credit card? Right, we don't. Nobody knows Vitale without that shrill, aggressive, obnoxious, one-eyeball-bulging, several-veins-popping, I-know-it-all-baby-and-I-got-it-exclusively TV manner that makes some viewers want to ram their fireplace andirons through the screen again and again until this blathering, gurgling basketball freak-monster with a voice like fingernails on a chalkboard has perished forever.

Of course, then they might miss him saying something lovable. Or titillating. Or penetrating and analytical so that even the occasional fan can understand him. Or devising some fabricated dialogue so very basic and natural and feasible. "Right now Dawkins is say in', 'Come and get it, Muggsy, I'm Johnny D, the Ail-American, and I'm takin' it to the hole.' And Bogues is sayin', 'Here I am, big guy. Nobody's quicker than Muggsy, so bring it on in here to turnover city.' " It would be a shame to miss even the slightest bit of Vitale-ity.

The truth is Vitale brings to life one of his own favorite cryptonyms. He is the once and forevermore, up and down, in and out, love-'em-or-hate-'em-but-never-forsake-'em "Dow Joneser." Sure, there's some Cosell in Vitale, and some McEnroe. He is compellingly watchable and listenable to fans and foes alike. On another level, if Vitale were a comic he'd be Jerry Lewis. If he were a movie star he'd be half of Tom and Jerry—which half, depending on the circumstances. As his cohort on ESPN, Bob Ley, once said: "Doing a telecast with Dick is like taking the ride on Space Mountain with a case of nitro on board. It's not if but when."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4