On The Heart Beat
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Valvano & Berman Words You’ve Never Heard
My heart was near exploding as I watched Dick Vitale at the ESPY awards speak for the first time in weeks after an imposed silence following vocal cord surgery.
Imagine the voice of basketball with no voice.
Imagine Bruce Springsteen or Ariana Grande with no voice.
Vitale’s physicians detected pre-cancerous of dysplasia and lesions on his vocal cords and the surgery ensued. They imposed the silence.
His very public battle with other cancers which he announced in April he had won and was cancer free.
His far ranging acceptance speech impacted me as it connected several great relationships I enjoyed at ESPN.
When I watched Vitale and Chris Berman hug on the ESPY stage as members of the ‘79ers—the informal club of people who were part of the network’s on-air launch year--it reminded me of Chris Berman’s heart, too.
Berman stories abound, but not this one.
It takes place in 1978 as our handful of smoke and mirror ‘SPN birthers were running around the country spreading the 24 hours sports dream like a half dozen Johnny Appleseeds.
Chris’s heart was feeling our dream and he knocked on our door.
The late and great Lou Palmer, then the Director of Programming and I took Chris to lunch to let him down slowly, because there was no curbing his heart and enthusiasm and no money in our coffers to hire anybody.
When we did, Chris’s big heart countered:
“I will keep coming back until you hire me,”
And when Getty Oil showered us with the millions it took to put flesh on the dream, Chris Berman’s rocket ride began and he was able to quit his part time weatherman job at a local station.
Dick Vitale’s other words on the ESPY occasion described the professional love and connection he shared well beyond the alphabetical relationship with Jim Valvano.
The two former coaches turned broadcasters connected on levels that brought ESPN basketball telecasts to new heights, and brought Vitale to tears as he spoke of Valvano’s now indelible words:
“Don’t Give Up. Don’t Ever Give Up”
It reminded me of words that Valvano said that only his wife Pam and I heard him say. It was an unintentional eavesdrop as I passed Valvano in the bullpen of desks in SportsCenter.
It was his first day on the job as an ESPN commentator.
He was on the phone with Pam and I heard him say:
“I think I’ve died and gone to heaven. I can sit in a room and watch a half a dozen games at once.”
Well, Jim, by now you know that the other half of “The Killer Vees” has missed the C Train to be with you, but knows, someday you’ll be calling games together again.
So go watch your six games at once, Dickie will be there when he’s ready.
In the interim, he will not give up and will continue to enable more than the $290 million in cancer research grants that the V Foundation has awarded since its founding 28 years ago.