SARASOTA, Fla. -- In an industry littered with phoniness, Dick Vitale is as real as it gets.
I've come across thousands of coaches, athletes and media members in just about every sport -- and I'm not sure anyone can match the passion that the long-time ESPN analyst brings to the table. It's obvious when you see him crowd-surfing at Cameron, when you hear him call just about any college hoop game. But Vitale takes it to a new level when trying to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
Vitale hosted his annual Gala in Sarasota for the seventh consecutive year this past weekend. There were elite college coaches such as Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Brad Stevens and Bob Huggins. Lou Holtz, Gary Williams and Jay Wright were honored. The Spinners played after the dinner.
Vitale is always passionate, but this was a different level of passion. His voice cracked often, before the event in front of the media, throughout the dinner -- and afterwards when he was told that the event had once again raised in excess of $1 million.
"This means more to me than anything else I do," Vitale admitted. "I'm obsessed with it. I get attached. These are my kids now."
Maybe I'm not supposed to say this because he works for a competitor, but Vitale is an amazing person. Not because he's 72 and has more energy than his 40-year-old. But because Vitale has a huge heart -- and that was clear this past weekend as he helped raise a record $1.6 million for the V Foundation, a number that didn't even include an anonymous $500,000 donation in the midst of the dinner.
Vitale doesn't do this for the attention like some athletes and coaches. He does it for the right reasons -- to help these kids that are battling cancer.
"We can't forget about these kids," Vitale said.
These aren't just names to Vitale, either. He knows them and their stories. He speaks to the kids and their parents.
"He just called a couple weeks ago just to see how we were doing," said David Hamilton, whose 10-year-old daughter, Olivia, is in remission. "His commitment to fighting cancer really is amazing. He's amazing."
You won't get any argument from me.