Dick Vitale's cancer charity gala gets $2 million from MSU booster Mat Ishbia and brother

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Dick Vitale sat in his Florida hospital bed while undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma last week when his phone started buzzing.

It was a text message from Michigan State basketball walk-on-turned-billionaire Mat Ishbia that changed the ESPN basketball analyst’s day.

Coach Tom Izzo put the two in touch a year ago, and Ishbia donated $1 million to the Dick Vitale Gala for pediatric cancer research. But Vitale has been unable to call and talk with donors since announcing his diagnosis and beginning chemotherapy in October. The 82-year-old former Detroit Mercy and Detroit Pistons head coach told the New York Post late last month he was treated recently for heavy inflammation and hemorrhaging in his vocal cords, which doctors wanted him to rest.

ESPN analyst Dick Vitale walks in before a Dec. 1 game at Dean E. Smith Center.
ESPN analyst Dick Vitale walks in before a Dec. 1 game at Dean E. Smith Center.

“I had no idea what to expect for this year,” Vitale wrote to the Free Press through a spokesman. “And with me not able to call and plead for help, it has given me a great deal of worry.”

Vitale’s goal this year for his gala is $7 million, which would bring the total raised through the V Foundation for Cancer Research to more than $50 million.

“One thing Dick has done, he's proven that the money goes to where it's supposed to go,” Izzo said earlier this week. “It's been proven that 100% of his donations go to fighting cancer, not to somebody's high-priced salary to be the executive director.”

However, Vitale said not being able to use his iconic voice to make his annual pitch for contributions while undergoing more chemo left him “really feeling depressed.”

Then around 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 30 — a few hours before MSU’s football team took the field against Pitt in the Peach Bowl — the owner of United Wholesale Mortgage reached out to Vitale and delivered major news: Not only would Ishbia be donating another $1 million, but his brother, Justin, would be matching the contribution. Justin Ishbia is an investor in UWM and founding partner of Shore Capital Partners, a Chicago-based private equity firm.

“I can’t describe the feeling, except my wife Lorraine and one of the nurses said, ‘Are you OK?’ basically thinking that maybe the chemo was causing me to tear up,” Vitale said. “I said these are TEARS OF JOY! It was a moment that I will not forget, because I feel with dollars we are raising and the generosity of the Ishbia brothers, we will not be stopped in going over the $50 million mark. …

“Mat is a winner in the game of life and has a heart of gold.”

Mat Ishbia, who has been active in contributing to a number of charities and his alma mater MSU, told the Free Press in a statement his donation “towards this great cause a no-brainer for me.”

“I’m proud to be able to support Dick Vitale as he continues his battle against cancer,” Ishbia said Thursday. “He is fighting this disease with tenacity and a positive outlook, and that is inspiring to me and so many others, both inside the basketball community as well as those across the country. Cancer has impacted so many people in my life, and anything I can do to help stop this horrible disease from impacting more families, I wanted to do.”

Izzo said he talks to Vitale every few days, and he views the legendary broadcaster and former coach not just as an icon in sports but as one for those battling cancer.

“I'm really proud of Mat and his brother. But I'm proud of Dick, too. Because Dick coming out and not hiding his situation is almost teaching us how to fight this disease for real,” Izzo said. “A lot of people tell you how to fight it, doctors and this and that. ... We're all going to be stricken with some form, or somebody in our family, and I think Dick's leading the way to help us all understand. He tells me how hard some of those things are.

“I think it's just a match made in heaven that he has so much passion for what he does, and I know Matt and his brother have a lot of passion for what they do. And the two have met, and I think a lot of good things are happening.”

More info on Vitale's gala is available at the V Foundation's website; the event will be held May 6 in Sarasota, Florida. All money goes thru The V Foundation and supports pediatric cancer research.

“Every dollar counts,” Vitale said.

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Dick Vitale's cancer charity gets $2M from Mat Ishbia and brother