During the time I worked at America West Airlines, I had the chance to meet many celebrities who flew on the airline. One brief encounter was with Mr. Basketball, Dick Vitale. I used to listen to his color commentating of NCAA basketball games on ESPN and was a big fan of his catchphrases, like “It’s awesome, baby!”, “Call the fire chief, ‘cause he’s on fire!”, and “Dipsy-doo dunkeroo slam-jam-bam!” From what he presented on the air, an upbeat happy-go-lucky type of guy, I felt he must be a good guy in person.
Maybe Dick is a good guy in person. Maybe it was just one of his off-days when I saw him. I mean, everyone has them. But, what I witnessed was not the Dick Vitale I expected. And, I cannot think of a good excuse for his negative behavior.
It was working as a gate agent on a flight that was close to departure. Dick Vitale came running up to the podium and threw two tickets down in front of me. He was out of breath from the running and stood panting for a moment. I verified his ID and then proceeded to check him in. “Where the hell is she!?” He yelled out loud, as he looked back. Just then, an elderly woman came struggling up the concourse with bags draped all over her. I noticed that Dick had absolutely nothing in his hands and this poor woman, his wife, was carrying a bag in each hand and two more strapped over her shoulders.
“Where the fuck were you!?” Dick said, as his wife approached. “Sorry, I…” She started to explain and then was cut off by Dick, “Shut the fuck up! Hurry and get on the goddamn plane before it leaves without us!” I was surprised to hear those abrasive words coming out of the super-whimsical man on the television set. Needless to say, my opinion of him went down a few notches that day.
Again, there may have been extenuating circumstances for Dick Vitale to have acted so callous toward his wife, but that they are only reasons, not excuses. Hopefully, he changed his changed his private demeanor to become more inline with his public one.