Emmy Award-winning college basketball broadcaster Billy Packer, who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82 years old.
Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks with multiple medical problems, and eventually succumbed to kidney failure.
Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the development of college basketball. He served as an analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy in 1993 for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst.
Mark Packer said, “He really enjoyed hitting the last fours.” “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to be involved in something that, frankly, he was about to see anyway was a joy to him. And then college basketball brought Magic Johnson and Larry Bird took off along and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans going crazy with March Madness.
Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.
He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA defeated Kentucky in the title game that year, which was John Wooden’s final game as coach.
Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979, along with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire, when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana State team in the title game. It remains the highest rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, an estimated 35.1 million viewers.
Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA tournament. He remained the network’s lead analyst until the 2008 Final Four.
At CBS in 1996, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey” to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said that “he was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implication in my mind that has anything to do with Allen Iverson’s race.”
Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports, said Packer “For more than three decades was synonymous with college basketball and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”
“He had a tremendous influence on the development and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinion, yet always focused on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at heart, Billy was a family man. I leave part of his legacy in college basketball and most importantly, as a loving husband, father and grandfather. He will be greatly missed by all.”
Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
espn broadcaster dick vitale goes to twitter As news of Packer’s death spread. Vitale tweeted, “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer, who had such a passion for college basketball.” My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark and the entire Packer family. Always had great respect for Billy and his partners Dick Enberg and Al McGuire—they were super. May Billy RIP.
College basketball analyst Franchilla tweeted: “We fell in love with college basketball because of you. Your voice will always be in my head.”
Packer was seen as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often angering college basketball fans, particularly those on “Tobacco Road” in North Carolina.
“As a kid, I was a big fan of NC State, and I’d watch a game and the next day I’d be like, ‘Boy you sure have this for NC State, right?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.
The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter which school — most fans felt the same way about his dad.
Mark Packer said, “He would cover North Carolina games and Tar Heels fans would be like, ‘You hate North Carolina.’ “Wake (One) fans would be like, ‘You hate us.’ And Billy kind of got a kick out of it.”
Mark Packer said most fans would remember his father as a broadcaster, but he would remember him even more for his business acumen. He added that his father was a major real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.
Packer said, “Billy was always a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal.”