Emotional Dick Vitale can't hold back tears in return to ESPN amid cancer battle

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 23:  ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale speaks during a news conference before a game between the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs and the No. 2 UCLA Bruins at T-Mobile Arena on November 23, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Vitale, who is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, got clearance from his doctor to start his 43rd season at ESPN by calling the game alongside Dave O’Brien.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Calling this game meant a lot to Dick Vitale. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

In a battle between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, the best moment came before tip-off.

Amid a months-long battle against cancer, longtime ESPN color commentator Dick Vitale made his return to courtside on Tuesday for the Gonzaga-UCLA game at the Good Sam Empire Classic.

Vitale could barely hold back tears as he was introduced by play-by-play partner Dave O'Brien, and quickly thanked everyone who has supported him, It was an emotional scene from a broadcaster whose considerable love of the game has never been more apparent.

Vitale's full address:

"It's great being here, Dave. I didn't want to cry. I can't believe I'm sitting here. This is really a big thrill for me. I want to thank all you people, sent me so many great messages. ESPN, Jimmy Pitaro, all my buddies at ESPN. I want to thank certainly, my family and all the fans. My, you've been unbelievable.

"On October 12, I'll be honest with you, when they walked in and told me I had cancer, they thought it was bile duct cancer, and it was really going to be a serious surgery and all, I never dreamt at 82 that I'm going to be at courtside again, but to be here again, I'm sorry, I hope I don't cause a problem out there, but I feel so emotional."

Vitale has undergone treatment for two different types of cancer this year, first having a melanoma removed in August before being diagnosed with lymphoma in October. He told Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel he was initially diagnosed with bile duct cancer, a far more serious illness with a low survival rate, but further testing revealed that wasn't the case.

Since his lymphoma diagnosis, Vitale has been undergoing a treatment of steroids and six months of chemotherapy. His doctors reportedly told him the treatment has a 90-percent success rate, but that clearly hasn't made it easy.

Vitale was thankfully cleared by doctors in time for Tuesday's game. It took less than a minute for him to remind audiences what he means to the sport.

Gonzaga blows out UCLA

Vitale's return was a welcome sight, but the game he was tasked with calling was less so.

In a rematch of a wild Final Four game that ended with an all-timer of a buzzer beater, Gonzaga made UCLA look like a pretender in an 83-63 beatdown. The score was 29-8 after 10 minutes, Gonzaga's lead topped out at 24 points.

No. 1 overall recruit and potential No. 1 NBA draft pick dominated at both ends of the floor, while senior Andrew Nembhard led all scorers with 24 points.