Upcoming documentary looks at the life of Lakewood Ranch's Dick Vitale

The 80-minute film will be broadcast on July 20 following the ESPYs, at which Vitale will receive the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance

Doug Fernandes
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
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Dick Vitale appears in front of the camera at his Lakewood Ranch home for the filming of the documentary "Dickie V," to be broadcast on July 20 following the ESPYs Award show on ESPN+. It will be shown on ESPN on July 23 at 4 p.m. Photo courtesy DNA Films.

SARASOTA — College basketball fans know Dick Vitale as the passionate hoop analyst for ESPN whose catch phrases such as "Awesome, baby!," "PTPer" and "Diaper Dandy" are as colorful as the man who coined them.

But Nick Nanton wasn't familiar with the life of Vitale away from the microphone.

Figuring other people were similarly ignorant, Nanton hopes his documentary "Dickie V" will flesh out the amazing life of the 83-year-old Lakewood Ranch resident.

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Eighty minutes in length, and featuring interviews with more 40 sports celebrities, "Dickie V" will premiere July 20 on ESPN+ immediately following the ESPY Award show. On July 23, it will be aired on ESPN at 4 p.m.

The 42-year-old Nanton, who studied at the University of Florida as an undergrad before attending the school's Levin College of Law, directed the documentary "Rudy Ruettiger: The Walk On" several years ago. On Ruettiger's suggestion, Nanton reached out to Vitale for input on the documentary.

"That's how I met Dick," he said. "I knew nothing about him other than he was a college basketball announcer. I had no idea about his coaching career. He just seemed like a really good guy. I asked him how come no one's told your story? He said, 'I don't know.'  Eventually he was super open to the idea."

Nick Nanton, director of the documentary "Dickie V."

Shooting began in November 2020. Over the following months, Nanton visited Vitale several times at his home, and when Vitale recently battled cancer, in the hospital. Nanton traveled the country to interview sports celebrities such as Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Mike Krzyzewski for the documentary.

Nanton said one theme emerged during the interviews.

"I was blown away by their respect (for Vitale). One of my favorite lines from the film is from (ESPN's) Scott Van Pelt. He works with a lot of athletes and it's pretty cool that people are masters of what they do. It's a little bit hyperbolic, but almost from the moment Dick and I agreed to do it, (I got texts). I actually didn't know he was as beloved as he was."

But Van Pelt, according to Nanton, said he is in awe of Vitale. "That's what I got over and over again."

Once word got out of his upcoming documentary, Nanton received texts from Barkley and country singing star Kenny Chesney. "Everyone wants to help Dick because he helps so many people," he said.

While in Vitale's office, Nanton learned Vitale had coached two high school state basketball champions. "I didn't know this," he said, "and I'm sure no one else knows it either. Even the most avid sports fans do not know."

Combining the past and the present, the documentary shows Vitale coaching in college and the NBA. It offers a history of ESPN, with Vitale calling the first college basketball game in the network's history. Later, with accompanying hospital video, Vitale battles melanoma, lymphoma, and ulcerated lesions on his vocal cords.

Nick Nanton, director of the documentary "Dickie V," watches Dick Vitale during filming at Vitale's Lakewood Ranch home. Photo courtesy DNA Films.

Nanton could not have asked for better timing for the release of his documentary, produced under Nanton's Astonish Entertainment label in association with The Montag Group.  At the ESPYs, Vitale will receive the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance.

"Being that persistent about everything in his life," Nanton said, "people absolutely love that about him. There were some people a little frustrated with him because he's so driven and he's so persistent. He's tireless and relentless and he's like that with everything in his life."

And how did the real Dickie V like the documentary "Dickie V?"

"He loved it," Nanton said. "He was emotional about it, watching his life play back before his eyes. He really enjoyed it and told me great job."

Or, in Vitale's vernacular, it was "Awesome, baby!"

For people who want to help kids with cancer, Vitale urges them to donate at v.org/pediatrics or DickVitale.com. All money goes to The V Foundation for Cancer Research.

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