Commentary

Vitale touched by honorary banquet

Updated: October 3, 2011, 4:10 PM ET
By Dick Vitale | ESPN.com

Wow, what can I say but, "That was awesome, baby!" That really is the only way to describe a special, emotional night for yours truly. I was honored in my old home area of North Jersey, and we raised more money for the V Foundation. With close to 400 people in attendance, it was just an incredible feeling of joy and jubilation.

It brought me to tears, and I was so thrilled to see so many beautiful people that made a difference in my life. They played a vital role in all of the beautiful things that have happened to me. I would not be in the Hall of Fame without the people who gathered there.

People like Howard Garfinkel of Five-Star fame, who gave me a shot at my first college coaching job. And Dick Lloyd, who I assisted at Rutgers. Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley from St. Anthony's was even there. He used to pay me $45 dollars and a sandwich to speak at clinics so I teased him about that; there are a few zeroes after the checks now, baby!

[+] EnlargeVitale
Dick VitaleLongtime friends Bob Ley and Dick Vitale share a fun-filled evening in North Jersey.

I also saw a lot of my former players at East Rutherford High School, where we won two state championships. The stories they told get better and better over time. My assistant coach for seven years, Bobby Stolarz, played a big role in getting former players there and I thank him for that. It was wonderful to have my family there, led by my wife Lorraine, my sister Terri and my brother John. I also had cousins there and they have been essential over the years.

My buddy from ESPN, Bob Ley, emceed the event in his usual eleoquent fashion. He showed why he is an Emmy-award winning broadcaster, baby! Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey also did a great job speaking at the event. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard presented me with a chair and said so many kind things.

There were also many friends there from ESPN who have played a vital role like Steve Anderson, Dave Miller, Howie Schwab, Jay Levy, Josh Krulewitz and Mike Soltys from PR and Andy Katz, who eats, sleeps and drinks basketball. They have been so loyal to me and have meant so much to my career.

I was so thrilled to see Mike Fratello and Richie Adubato, great coaches and tremendous friends throughout the years. We used to work at camps together, and they are always there when you need a helping hand. It was also great to see former Maryland player and NBA star Albert King in attendance.

It was important to bring awareness and recognition to the V Foundation and it was great to have Nick Valvano there. There was a touching moment as I introduced the Heard family to the crowd. Sadly, they recently lost their 10-year old son David to cancer. We will give a research grant in David's name at my gala in Florida next year.

I also want to thank my dear friend, former Notre Dame and NY Giants defensive back Tom Longo, who did a terrific job putting this event together. When you talk about integrity and class, he is that personified. He is a friend for life.

It was a night of laughter and tears. I was really shocked when the mayor of East Rutherford, one of my former players, Jimmy Cassella, announced that Clinton playgrounds will be refurbished and named the Dickie V. courts. That was an emotional moment knowing that kids will know about me for years after I pass.

It was a special night that I will never forget. You can go home again, baby! Thanks for the dollars raised for the V Foundation. Thanks for so many great moments because of the people in that room. I have been surrounded by winners and this was a very special evening.

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to ESPN.com.