Billy Packer, a longtime college basketball commentator, has died at the age of 82, his son Mark Packer said on Twitter and confirmed to The Associated Press.
“The Packer Family would like to share some sad news. Our amazing father, Billy, has passed. We take peace knowing that he’s in heaven with (wife) Barb. RIP, Billy,” Mark, an ACC Network presenter, wrote.
Mark Packer told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the previous three weeks with many medical concerns and died on Thursday night from renal failure.
For decades, Billy Packer’s voice was synonymous with March Madness. From 1975 until 2008, he was on the call for the men’s Final Four, first for NBC and subsequently for CBS.
Packer’s first Final Four in 1975, after joining NBC in 1974, was historic: UCLA coach John Wooden won his tenth title in his final game as a coach.
Packer, along with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire, called the highest-rated college basketball game in history in 1979: Magic Johnson’s Michigan State vs. Larry Bird’s Indiana State in the national championship game.
“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”
Along the way, Packer received several honors, including a Sports Emmy Award in 1993 for “Outstanding Sports Personality/Analyst.” The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame presented him with the Curt Gowdy Media Award in 1996, and he was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor alongside Dick Vitale in 2008.
“So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball, Vitale shared on Twitter.
Packer joined CBS in 1981, when the network obtained NCAA Tournament rights, and remained the network’s primary commentator until 2008.
Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and established the bar of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament,” according to Sean McManus, head of CBS Sports.
“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport,” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”
Packer was a brilliant collegiate basketball player before becoming one of the sport’s defining voices. He was a Wake Forest player from 1959 to 1962, and he helped the Demon Deacons win two ACC tournaments. Wake Forest advanced to the Final Four in 1962.
During his broadcasting career, Packer was considered a controversial character, frequently attracting the ire of college basketball fans, notably on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”
“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, ‘Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.
The younger Packer stated that it didn’t matter which school he attended because most fans felt the same way about his father.
“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, ‘you hate North Carolina,’” Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, ‘you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that. I mean, people would be all over him. But he honestly did not give a crap.”
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