Billy Packer, award-winning college basketball broadcaster, dead at 82

Billy Packer, an Emmy Award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for CBS and NBC, has died, his son said. He was 82.

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Packer’s son, Mark Packer, tweeted about his father’s death on Thursday night.

“We take peace knowing that he’s in heaven with Barb,” he wrote. “RIP, Billy.”

Packer was an analyst or color commentator for every Final Four from 1975 until 2008, Sports Illustrated reported.

During his three-plus decades as an announcer, Packer helped popularize three-man television broadcast teams with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire, CBS Sports reported. Packer also was never afraid to speak his mind, the sports news outlet reported.

NBC hired Packer in 1974, and he moved to CBS when that network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament in 1981, Sports Illustrated reported.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer told The Associated Press. “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.”

Packer has made some of the most famous calls in Final Four history, ESPN reported. After Miles Simon led Arizona to the 1997 NCAA title, Packer memorably said, “Simon says ... championship.”

Packer, Enberg and McGuire called the highest-rated college basketball game, manning the microphones for the 1979 NCAA final that pitted Michigan State’s Magic Johnson against Indiana State’s Larry Bird, USA Today reported.

In an Aug. 19, 2019, interview with The Athletic, Packer said he “never had any goal to be a broadcaster.”

“I made up my mind halfway through my career that someday I won’t be doing this anymore. One of the things I said to myself was that I really enjoy the research and studying the game and having the opportunity to interface with people I respect that really know the game and its history,” Packer told the publication. “And if I didn’t enjoy doing that, I’d want to stop. There’s a point where you say, OK, I’ve enjoyed my run, and now it’s time to go back and do the other things I enjoy. The last game I’ve seen in person was the last game I broadcast. That was the national championship game (in 2008) between Memphis and Kansas.”

Packer added that he had no regrets about stepping away.

“Nope, nope, nope. I never had any goal to be a broadcaster. I loved the opportunities I had, but I think it’s always good to understand when you’ve had your time and it’s time to do other things,” Packer told The Athletic. “Fortunately for me, basketball broadcasting was always a hobby, not a livelihood, so I went right back to doing the things I’ve always been involved in.

Basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale paid tribute to Packer in a tweet.

“So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire -- they were super.”

Packer was born in Wellsville, New York, on Feb. 25, 1940, and attended high school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, according to Sports Illustrated. He played college basketball at Wake Forest from 1960 to 1962 and was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection in 1960 and 1961, the magazine reported.

He earned NCAA All-Region honors in 1962, the same year the Demon Deacons reached the Final Four.

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