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Dickie V documentary review
Image: ESPN

Film

Dickie V Tells the Story of a Beloved Broadcaster 

Timed to coincide with its subject’s speech at the ESPYs this week, ESPN has debuted Dickie V, a new documentary about the life of the legendary college basketball announcer Dick Vitale. It’s a bit similar to All-Madden, the documentary late last year about another beloved broadcaster, John Madden, which happened to be released within days of Madden’s death. 

The big difference — besides, you know, Vitale still being alive — is that in addition to telling the story of Vitale’s coaching and broadcasting careers, Dickie V covers the broadcaster’s recent cancer battle, following Vitale in the hospital and even during a period in which the famously talkative announcer was unable to speak. 

Dickie V debuted on ESPN+ on July 20 and will land on standard ESPN on July 23. It’s under ESPN Films but is not a 30 for 30. 

The film starts the right way, with Vitale doing the call of a classic game. It demonstrates right off the bat that even if you’re not a fan of the catchphrases, Vitale is very, very good at what he does, possibly even the best ever to do it. 

Dickie V documentary
Image: ESPN Films

Dickie V, directed by  Nick Nanton, goes through the now-83-year-old Vitale’s life in mostly chronological fashion: We see his childhood, the beginning of his short-lived coaching career, and the way Vitale almost accidentally segued into a broadcasting career, as part of ESPN from its launch in 1979; before long Vitale was the then-fledgling network’s primary college basketball voice, and has remained that for more than 40 years.  

Throughout, there are extensive interviews with Vitale himself, which appeared to have been shot over a considerable period of time, as well as college basketball legends like John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, and all kinds of ESPN legends. And yes, the film goes into the origins of “Awesome, baby,” “diaper dandy” and other Vitale-isms. 

The film also follows Vitale’s cancer battle, as Vitale has battled everything from melanoma to lymphoma, to ulcerated lesions on his vocal cords in recent years, although it ends with Vitale overcome with emotion when he returns to an arena for the first time since finishing chemotherapy. 

Vitale gave that ESPYs speech Wednesday night, receiving the  Jimmy V Award for Perseverance. He kept up the “Much-Loved Broadcaster Who Has Cancer” ESPYs speaking tradition previously taken by his friend and broadcast partner Jim Valvano, and later Stuart Scott and Craig Sager. In both the film and the speech, Vitale emphasized that he’s dedicating his remaining days to raising money to fight cancer, especially pediatric cancer. 

It doesn’t reinvent the sports documentary wheel in any particular way, but Dickie V is a winning and worthy tribute to a broadcasting legend. 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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