An emotional Dick Vitale thanks the fans for their support

Dick Vitale, an iconic television voice of college basketball for the last four decades, on Tuesday night effusively thanked fans on the air for all of their well-wishes during his battle with cancer.

It was an emotional moment.

The 82-year-old Vitale fought back tears as he addressed his struggle with lymphoma, just before tipoff of ESPN’s nationally-televised game between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA in Las Vegas.

“It’s great being here, Dave,” Vitale told broadcast partner Dave O’Brien. “I didn’t want to cry. I can’t believe I’m sitting here.”

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, Vitale made the trip to cover the game “a few days after having a fourth round of drugs pumped into his body” to fight the lymphoma.

He was diagnosed on Oct. 12.

Vitale initially was told he might need a surgery for what was believed to be cancer of the bile duct.

But he later was informed that he had the lymphoma, which was good news because it was something that could be treated with six months of chemotherapy, according to The Times.

A former coach at the high school, college and professional levels, Vitale has been broadcasting games since the late 1970s.

For years, he’s been one of the faces of college basketball, known for his gregarious personality and his eccentricities in describing the game on the air.

But in his remarks just before the Gonzaga-UCLA tipoff, Vitale expressed humility and gratitude for support from his family and friends and from the fans.

“I want to thank all you people,” he said.

Years ago, Vitale’s life was touched by cancer when his friend, former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano, was diagnosed with metastatic adenocarcinoma.

Through the adversity, the two became close, and Vitale attended when Valvano delivered his “don’t give up, don’t ever give up,” remarks at the ESPY Awards presentation in March of 1993.

Valvano passed away a month later.

In the aftermath of his friend’s passing, Vitale emerged as a crusader for cancer research.

The Tampa, Fla., resident has helped raise $44 million for pediatric cancer, which, he said during the broadcast, he wants to boost to $50 million this year.

“Yes, 6 months of chemo will be a challenge,” he said on his Twitter feed. “But with all the love support and (prayers) I am receiving, I am planning on winning the toughest battle I have ever faced.”

As Vitale watched from courtside, Gonzaga put on a show. The No 1-ranked Bulldogs defeated the No. 2 Bruins easily, 83-63. Guard Andrew Nembhard scored 24 points. Forward Drew Timmme had 18.

Freshman Chet Holmgren caught Vitale’s attention with 15 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks. On one play, the lithe 7-footer blocked a shot, dribbled behind his back on a fast break and dunked it two handed.

“He’s a Diaper Dandy deluxe,” Vitale said.

Vitale emerged as one of the stars of the night, as well. Fans chanted his name after the game as he offered remarks on-air to the ESPN viewers.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few told reporters that Vitale “just loves this game” and has done so much for it. “What an ambassador he is for college basketball,” Few said.

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