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Dick Vitale

Records are made to be broken…
The truly great know their legacy isn’t what they did on the field (or in the broadcast booth). They are well-rounded.

He is the face of college basketball, a man whose enthusiasm for the game is so infectious that when the Basketball Hall of Fame considered his induction last year, the decision was a slam dunk. As college basketball season kicked into gear last week, Dick Vitale was in his own personal heaven, broadcasting games from the game’s Mecca, Madison Square Garden.

But that’s just Dick Vitale the broadcaster. Dick Vitale the man is an even greater Hall of Famer.

When he walks into any room, arena or restaurant, fans regularly scream out one of the many phrases he’s made his own – “HE’S AWESOME, BABY” is a favorite. What those fans don’t know about Vitale is how much larger his heart is than his lungs.

There is no greater example than this story from 2006: In May of that year a neighbor came by to see Vitale to tell him about a young girl who lived nearby. She recently had been diagnosed with cancer. “Honestly, my first reaction was that I had just asked all my friends to contribute to a dinner for the Jimmy V (Valvano) Foundation a couple of weeks earlier,” Vitale said when we talked about his charitable spirit over breakfast recently. Apply this Characteristic: Take five minutes over the Thanksgiving weekend, while you're surrounded with the ones you love, to write down what you hope your legacy will be; what will they say about you long after you've passed? What trophies or sales records made that list?“We’d done well for the V Foundation. I said I couldn’t go back to all those people again. My neighbor wasn’t asking for money, but I was trying to figure out what I could do.

“Then my neighbor came back, and this time she had Payton Wright, the little girl, and her mother, Holly, with her. I looked into Payton’s eyes and immediately said I’d get involved. I called all those friends and they combined to do something awesome in just a couple of weeks. Together, we created some cushion for the family so that Payton’s parents could take time from work to travel for her treatments.”

vitale3A little more than a year later – on May 29, 2007 – five-year-old Payton passed away. Vitale took her story public, talking about it on radio shows and even mentioning her during game broadcasts. He made her cause his, pouring his heart and considerable soul into helping the family, and in the process has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars aimed at curing pediatric cancer.

As he wrote on his blog and to readers of ESPN: “Payton Wright may have lost this battle, but her inspiration will lead to thousands and thousands of dollars towards research. She will affect many youngsters for generations to come as they benefit from her spirit. The medical community will benefit with the necessary dollars . . . Help keep Payton Wright’s spirit alive as the grant for pediatric cancer research will help the dream of aiding younger kids battling this dreaded disease.”

Tips from the Great Ones

Vitale knows that his real privilege is not sitting in front of a microphone for each game but instead, using the influence and resources that his talents and profession have brought him to impact and enrich the lives of others. He understands that greatness is not pursuing fame but leaving a legacy.

By working with groups like the Jimmy V Foundation, the Payton Wright Foundation and the Boys and Girls Clubs, Vitale is developing something much more significant than the catch phrases that have made him famous.

Awards are nice, and a seat in the Hall of Fame is an incredible honor, but they don’t mean much in the big picture. There will be another sportscaster inducted into the Hall of Fame (though there wasn’t one in this year’s class). “The Hall of Fame is an incredible honor,” Vitale said with tears in his eyes. “But I would give it all back in a second if we could guarantee that another family would not have to experience the pain that the Wrights have felt.”

He didn’t have to step up. He did not have any personal ties to the situation. In fact, Dick Vitale’s is one of those rare families where cancer hasn’t left a scar. But even though Dick Vitale makes his living sitting on the sidelines of game, he refuses to sit on the sidelines of life. “I learned from my mom and dad,” he said, “who didn’t have a formal education, but had doctorates of love. They told me that if you gave 110 percent all the time, a lot of beautiful things will happen. I may not always be right, but no one can ever accuse me of not having a genuine love and passion for whatever I do.”

vitale4What do you care about? What causes touch your heart, either for personal reasons or simply because they move you? We don’t all have the same intense energy of Dick Vitale, but we all have a passion for something. What have you done lately to cultivate that? What do you care about that goes beyond yourself to touch the lives of others in your community, or perhaps half-way around the world?

Don’t get caught up pursuing honors – trophies and plaques are all just trinkets that will mean nothing in the long run. Instead, pour yourself into something that will have an impact, something that will last. Greatness is not achieved through titles and awards; greatness is achieved by reaching beyond yourself to lift others.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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