Lebron James Controversy
Skeptics, however, say Vitale's act serves to encourage the very showboating he says he disdains. And, his over-the-top style clearly does not appeal to everyone. "Over the last 20 years, Vitale has established himself as a leading expert in college basketball. His knowledge of the game rivals that of Peter Gammons in baseball. He has quick facts and stats at his fingertips, and is as credible an announcer as there can be," said Boston writer Bob George on his web site. "But the guy is an absolute horror to listen to. Annoying? At least. Aggravating? Definitely."
A media firestorm erupted during the winter of 2002-03 when ESPN assigned Vitale to cover high school games. LeBron James, a star at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, was the 2002 Parade All-America High School Boys Basketball Player of the Year, and had appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated. and ESPN The Magazine. ESPN assigned another marquee announcer, former NBA star Bill Walton, to join Vitale. What resulted, critics said, was a carnival atmosphere when St. Vincent-St. Mary played (and defeated) what Minneapolis writer Steve Aschburner called "a traveling troop of NBA wannabes from a hoops factory in Virginia (Oak Hill Academy)." "Oh, every so often, the two hired shills (Vitale and Walton) would verbally wring their hands about the hype and how this might be too much pressure for the young man. Then Vitale would crank himself up again and rave about the money ("Millions, ba-by!") that one lucky sneaker company will lavish upon him," Aschburner wrote in the Star Tribune.
Vitale defended himself after Billy Packer of CBS joined the criticism. "ESPN is not hyping LeBron James," he said. "(He) is just the latest teenage phenom to capture the public's attention."
Vitale, who is signed with ESPN through 2006, has written six books and received countless awards from basketball and civic organizations. He has a merchandise Web site and regularly contributes to ESPN The Magazine, USA Today and other periodicals. He has also played his own character in various television shows. He and his wife, Lorraine, have two daughters, Terri and Sherri, each of whom attended Notre Dame University on tennis scholarships and have earned master's degrees.