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Richly Deserved

Every so often, you can turn on the TV and catch something unexpected.  It happened twice this weekend.  On Sunday, we caught the end of a magnificent U.S. Open Final between Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic.  It was remarkable tennis: powerful, passionate, and courageous on both sides of the net, absolutely gripping.

And on Friday night, we saw Dick Vitale's acceptance speech at the Hall Of Fame.

To an extent, you could say it was just Vitale.  But then you have to stop and think: what the heck does that mean?

He's very easy to parody.  We've always thought that Sesame Street could use him - he even looks like a Muppet.  And the way he speaks, the PTPers, the Diaper Dandies, the riffs on people and places he admires - everyone is either used to it (best case) or (worst case) thoroughly sick of it.

But underneath the parts of Vitale that are easy to poke fun at beats a tremendous heart, and it came through during his Hall of Fame speech loud and clear.

As is almost always the case with Vitale, he talked too much, but he said some really interesting things.  His comments about trying to beat out other recruiters and getting to Magic Johnson's house at 7:30 in the morning, only to find out that Magic was already out working on his game.

Or his comments about going to hear Bob Knight give a coaches clinic, or any of several other points about how hard he worked to move up in the game.

But the most moving parts of his speech, by far, were his comments about family.  His love for his wife and daughters, and their husbands, came through loud and clear.  But what was really touching were his comments about his parents.

His father, he said, was a coat presser who worked his ass off to provide for  his family.  His mother was a devout woman who at one point, he said, had to drag herself to mass despite a leg crippled by (we think we remember this correctly) a stroke.

Is Vitale loud and at times annoying? Yes.  But is he also a man who has built his life around love?  That would be hard to argue with.

Whatever you can say about the man, he brings an enormous love of college basketball to the court every time he works, or as he says, every time he steals money.  And in an age when the sport is compromised and corrupted in so many ways, having a guy like that, who remembers the romance and the beauty of the game, and who enjoys almost everyone associated with it, well, it's a blessing.  Everyone who is involved with the game should be happy that Vitale is able to bring such a high level of enthusiasm, passion, and joy to the court every time he picks up a mike.

He connects with the same thing that took Magic Johnson out to shovel snow off of courts in the dead of Michigan winters, before school no less.  Guys like that love everything about basketball. They go home thinking about it and wake up and get right after it again.

Vitale is, at heart, an eminently decent man, and someone who has had a profound effect on the game from the sidelines. We think it's great that his place in the game's history has been acknowledged and honored.