Dick Vitale says vocal cord cancer ‘is gone’ but delays ESPN return

Dick Vitale has claimed victory in his latest battle with cancer, but his recovery process mandates a delay in his planned return to the airwaves.

The legendary ESPN college basketball analyst, 84, said last month that he intended to make his 2023-24 season debut calling a Nov. 28 game between Kentucky and Miami. On Monday, though, Vitale said in a statement that he needed “some more rest.”

After he was diagnosed with vocal cord cancer in July, Vitale said he was set to undergo six weeks of radiation treatment for a condition his physician told him had “an extremely high cure rate.” The catch was that the famously voluble analyst had to rest his vocal cords for several months. In an Oct. 16 video, Vitale said viewers were “the first people to hear my voice in a long, long time.” His doctor, Massachusetts-based laryngeal surgery specialist Steven Zeitels, said in the video that he saw “no evidence of the cancer whatsoever.”

“The cancer is gone, which is amazing news, yet the impact of the treatments has taken its toll on my voice and requires more healing,” Vitale said Monday in a statement shared by ESPN. “With the season started, I am jumping out of my shoes to be back in the college basketball arenas, calling the game I love and being around so many great colleagues and fans. I have to listen to the medical experts, who have been so good to me, and with some more rest, I know I will be back for my 45th season.”

There is no specific date for Vitale’s return, ESPN said.

In his July statement, Vitale noted that cancer had now “knocked on my door three different times.” He revealed in October 2021 that he was diagnosed with lymphoma after an apparently unrelated case of melanoma was detected earlier in the year. In emotional comments on the air before a high-profile hardwood matchup the following month, Vitale said that sitting courtside to help call a big game was “the best medicine I could ask for.”

Vitale shared an update in August 2022 that a physician declared him cancer-free. He described that at the time as “news I wish EVERY cancer patient can hear.”

A former coach at the college and NBA levels who joined ESPN shortly after its launch in 1979, Vitale became the voice of college basketball for many fans. Known for imbuing his commentary with trademark enthusiasm, he was inducted in 2008 to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

“While I’m disappointed with the latest developments,” Vitale said in his statement Monday, “I remain hopeful. … I’ve been so touched by the amazing response I’ve received.”

“Dick has the full support of his entire ESPN family,” network chairman Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement, “and, while we look forward to a return to his rightful courtside perch, he needs to focus on fully mending his vocal cords. Sports fans everywhere will anxiously await his comeback whenever he is ready.”

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