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Home » College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82
Michael Conroy/AP, file
CBS announcers Billy Packer, left, and Jim Nantz laugh during a break in championship play at the Big Ten basketball tournament in Indianapolis, March 12, 2006. Packer, an Emmy-winning collegiate basketball broadcaster, broadcasts 34 Final Fours for NBC and reported CBS died on Thursday evening, January 26, 2023. He was 82 years old. Packer’s son Mark told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte, NC for the past three weeks and had multiple medical problems and eventually succumbed to kidney failure.
By Steve Reed, Associated Press
Thursday, January 26, 2023 | 10:03 p.m
CHARLOTTE, NC — Billy Packer, an Emmy-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.
Packer’s son Mark told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had multiple medical problems and eventually succumbed to kidney failure.
Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. From 1975 to 2008 he worked as an analyst or color commentator on every Final Four. In 1993 he received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst.
“He really enjoyed riding the Final Fours,” said Mark Packer. “He picked the right time. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to engage in something he would honestly be watching anyway brought joy to him. And then college basketball kind of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and I think that became the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go nuts with March Madness.”
Packer played three seasons with Wake Forest and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the 1962 Final Four, but it was his work as an analyst that earned him the most critical acclaim.
He joined NBC in 1974 and called out his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA defeated Kentucky in the title game that year in John Wooden’s last game as a coach.
Packer was also part of the show with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire in 1979 when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana State team in the title game. With a Nielsen rating of 21.1, representing an estimated 35.1 million viewers, it remains the highest-rated game in basketball history.
Packer joined CBS in the fall of 1981 when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA tournament. He remained the network’s primary analyst through the 2008 Final Four.
CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said Packer was “a synonym for college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard as the mouthpiece of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.”
“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport,” said McManus. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, but always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, Billy was a family man at heart. He leaves part of his legacy in CBS Sports, in college basketball, and most importantly, as a beloved husband, father, and grandfather. He will be greatly missed by all.”
Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
Dick Vitale took to Twitter as news of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark and the entire Packer family. Always had a lot of RESPECT for Billy and his partners Dick Enberg and Al McGuire – they were awesome. May Billy RIP.”
College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted, “You made us fall in love with college basketball. Your voice will stay in my head forever.”
Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his airtime and often drew the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s Tobacco Road.
“As a kid, I was a huge NC State fan growing up and I would watch a game and the next day I was like, ‘Boy, you really want NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” said Mark Packer.
The younger Packer, who hosts ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter which school – most fans felt the same way about his father.
“He was covering the North Carolina game and the Tar Heels fans were like, ‘You hate North Carolina,'” said Mark Packer. “Wake (Forest) fans would say, ‘You hate us.’ And Billy thought that was kind of great. I mean people would be all over him. But he honestly didn’t give a damn.”
Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he will remember his business acumen even more. He said his father was a big real estate investor and also owned an e-cigarette company, among other things.
“Billy has always been a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for the next deal,” Packer said.
AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy contributed to this report.