In a battle between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, the best moment came before tip-off.
Amid a months-long battle against cancer, longtime ESPN color commentator Dick Vitale made his return to courtside on Tuesday for the Gonzaga-UCLA game at the Good Sam Empire Classic.
Vitale could barely hold back tears as he was introduced by play-by-play partner Dave O'Brien, and quickly thanked everyone who has supported him, It was an emotional scene from a broadcaster whose considerable love of the game has never been more apparent.
— ESPN (@espn) November 24, 2021
Vitale's full address:
"It's great being here, Dave. I didn't want to cry. I can't believe I'm sitting here. This is really a big thrill for me. I want to thank all you people, sent me so many great messages. ESPN, Jimmy Pitaro, all my buddies at ESPN. I want to thank certainly, my family and all the fans. My, you've been unbelievable.
"On October 12, I'll be honest with you, when they walked in and told me I had cancer, they thought it was bile duct cancer, and it was really going to be a serious surgery and all, I never dreamt at 82 that I'm going to be at courtside again, but to be here again, I'm sorry, I hope I don't cause a problem out there, but I feel so emotional."
Vitale has undergone treatment for two different types of cancer this year, first having a melanoma removed in August before being diagnosed with lymphoma in October. He told Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel he was initially diagnosed with bile duct cancer, a far more serious illness with a low survival rate, but further testing revealed that wasn't the case.
Since his lymphoma diagnosis, Vitale has been undergoing a treatment of steroids and six months of chemotherapy. His doctors reportedly told him the treatment has a 90-percent success rate, but that clearly hasn't made it easy.
Vitale was thankfully cleared by doctors in time for Tuesday's game. It took less than a minute for him to remind audiences what he means to the sport.
Gonzaga blows out UCLA
Vitale's return was a welcome sight, but the game he was tasked with calling was less so.
In a rematch of a wild Final Four game that ended with an all-timer of a buzzer beater, Gonzaga made UCLA look like a pretender in an 83-63 beatdown. The score was 29-8 after 10 minutes, Gonzaga's lead topped out at 24 points.
No. 1 overall recruit and potential No. 1 NBA draft pick dominated at both ends of the floor, while senior Andrew Nembhard led all scorers with 24 points.