Billy Packer, an Emmy Award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82 years old.
Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical problems, eventually succumbing to kidney failure.
Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as an analyst or color commentator for every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Study and Sports Analyst in 1993.
“He really enjoyed making the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He got the timing right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to see anyway, was a joy for him. And then basketball college started with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and I think that became the catalyst for college basketball fans to go crazy about March Madness.”
Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most recognition.
He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA defeated Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s last game as coach.
Packer was also part of the 1979 broadcast with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana State team in the title game. It remains the highest-rated game in basketball history with a Nielsen rating of 21.1, accounting for an estimated 35.1 million viewers.
Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s primary analyst until the 2008 Final Four.
Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard for excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”
“It had a huge impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In Billy’s way, 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, at heart Billy was a family man. He leaves a legacy at CBS Sports, college basketball and most importantly as a loving husband, father and grandfather. He will be greatly missed.”
Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
Packer was seen as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, especially on “Tobacco Road” in North Carolina.
“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I’d watch a game and the next day I’d be like, ‘Boy, you sure got it for NC State, don’t you?’ And I would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.
The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter which school — most fans felt the same way about his dad.
“I would cover the North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would say, ‘You hate North Carolina,'” Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would say, ‘You hate us.’ And Billy was a bit attracted to it. I mean, people would be all over him. But he honestly didn’t give a shit.”
Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he will be remembered even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a major real estate investor and also owned a vaporizing company, among other businesses.
“Billy was always a bit of a hustler, always looking for the next business deal,” Packer said.
Report from The Associated Press.
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