- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2003

Nobody is neutral about Dick Vitale, perhaps the most controversial sportscaster since Howard Cosell was at his shrill best (or worst, depending on your viewpoint).

Considering Vitale seems to broadcast about 5,000 college basketball games a season and travel nonstop out of season, it’s remarkable he has found time to eat five meals, much less write five books. But he has, and No.5, “Dick Vitale: Living A Dream” ($24.95, Sports Publishing LLC, 316 pages, illus.) should be eagerly received by those who buy into his upbeat persona and jargonistic style.

First, a personal note. I love Vitale — for about 10 minutes at a time. After that, his relentlessly aggressive broadcasting style gets on my nerves. Does he really need to use the word “man” every 15 seconds (the book is the same)? I mean, c’mon, man.

As usual, Vitale’s co-author is Philadelphia sportswriter Dick “Hoops” Weiss, whose nickname reflects the fact that he’s just as big a basketball nut. The subject matter covers Vitale’s 25 years as an ESPN analyst and also includes his reflections about what’s right and wrong with today’s college game.

Along the way he offers high praise for former Georgetown coach John Thompson, whom Vitale calls one of his “VIPS” (Very Influential People), and current Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose program he says is on the verge of becoming one of the nation’s truly elite. Vitale also suggests strongly that Williams and former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell belong in the Basketball Hall of Fame with Thompson.

In fact, Vitale gives Williams “an Academy Award” for his job in coaching Maryland to a national championship two years ago. Does that mean Gary is only acting when he yowls at the officials 10 or 15 times a game?

Of course, Vitale never comes off looking bad in his own eyes or words. For instance, “Dickie V” says he once told Georgetown center Patrick Ewing he needed to work on his drop-step moves, and Thompson then told Ewing, “I want you to listen to him now.”

This might indeed have happened, but why am I skeptical?

As a former coach (at the University of Detroit), Vitale often seems reluctant to criticize other coaches; he even has some kind words for Matt Doherty, who virtually managed to wreck North Carolina’s storied program before being asked to leave after last season. But Vitale does second-guess successful college coaches who take over bad NBA teams that continue to be bad. (Though the topic is basketball, wouldn’t this also apply to Steve Spurrier and the Redskins?)

Vitale picks LeBron James as the best high school player he’s seen and says (“trust me, baby”) that the teenage millionaire will be “the bomb” in the NBA. I always thought “bomb” meant failure, but in Vitale’s argot it means he’ll be an instant success.”

If a larger dose of Vitale is your thing, buy the book. Otherwise, forget it, baby.

“Giants: Big Men Who Shook the NBA” ($29.95, Triumph, 136 pages, illus.) — As its title suggests, this handsome coffee table volume tracks the careers of the league’s best centers and forwards, from George Mikan to Shaquille O’Neal. Each man is profiled well, and there are remarkable pictures going back to the days when NBA teams played in dim, dusty and dark arenas like D.C.’s Uline Arena.

Commentary and analysis is by longtime coach Pete Newell, who won a couple of NCAA titles with Bill Russell at San Francisco in the mid-1950s. Yet the book rates Wilt Chamberlain as the NBA’s best big man ever, followed by Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and O’Neal.

Wes Unseld, who led the Washington Bullets to three NBA Finals in the ‘70s, makes the list at No.16, right behind former teammate Elvin Hayes. At 6-foot-6, Unseld was the last of the NBA’s “small” centers but succeeded because he “had the body of a sumo wrestler and the disposition of a grizzly bear,” according to author Mark Heisler.

For fans of the pro game, the book is a big winner.

“Heroes of the Hall: Pro Football’s Greatest Players” ($29.95, Sporting News Books, 399 pages, illus.) — As a companion volume to a baseball version published in 2002, this coffee table volume by Ron Smith is indispensable for any fan young or old who wants to know more about the NFL’s 216 greatest performers, coaches and executives.

Each man’s career is traced with text, statistics and pictures, many of the latter in color. Of Sammy Baugh, the Washington Redskins’ first great passer (1937-52), fellow Pro Football Hall of Famer Sid Luckman says, “He was so automatic that he hardly ever looked at his receivers. He was the nearest thing to perfection.”

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