Longtime college basketball broadcaster Billy Packer has died, his son Mark Packer shared on Twitter and confirmed to The Associated Press. He was 82.
“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, a host for the ACC Network, wrote.
Mark Packer told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure on Thursday night.
Billy Packer’s voice was synonymous with March Madness for decades. Broadcasting for NBC and then CBS, he was on the call for the men’s Final Four every year from 1975-2008.
After joining NBC in 1974, Packer’s first Final Four in 1975 was historic: UCLA coach John Wooden captured his 10th championship in his final game as a coach.
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In 1979, Packer was part of the crew – along with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire – that called the highest-rated college basketball game in history: Magic Johnson’s Michigan State vs. Larry Bird’s Indiana State in the national title 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.”
Accolades poured in for Packer along the way: He won a Sports Emmy Award in 1993 for “Outstanding Sports Personality/Analyst.” He was honored with the Curt Gowdy Media Award by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996 and was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2008, alongside Dick Vitale.
“So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale wrote on Twitter.
Packer joined CBS in 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament, and remained the network’s main analyst until 2008.
Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”
“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.”
Before he became one of the sport’s defining voices, Packer himself was a standout college basketball player. He played for Wake Forest from 1959-1962 and helped the Demon Deacons win two ACC tournament titles. The 1962 Wake Forest team reached the Final Four.
Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly 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 said it didn’t matter what school — 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.”
Contributing: Associated Press