Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
It took Mike Greenberg a second to realize what was being asked of him.
The ESPN host and author was on the phone with Dick Vitale, the legendary basketball analyst and coach, in Feb. 2017, talking about Vitale’s annual gala, when Vitale invited him to be an honoree at the 2018 event.
Before the words could process in Greenberg’s brain, he started to say, “Let me make sure I’m available,” before stopping himself.
“I thought about it and said, ‘What I meant to say was, if I have anything planned for that weekend, I’ll cancel it.’” Greenberg said. “This is such an extraordinary honor. To all of us at ESPN, the V Foundation is so special and so sacred.”
Greenberg will be honored on May 11 at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota alongside University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and Florida State University men’s basketball coach Leonard Hamilton. Greenberg said he doesn’t know Hamilton aside from a few interviews on Greenberg’s former morning show, Mike and Mike, but knows Harbaugh well from his time working as a reporter in Chicago covering the Bears, for whom Harbaugh played quarterback. Greenberg said he’s excited to share the spotlight with both men.
The V Foundation for Cancer Research has been part of Greenberg’s life since joining ESPN in 1996 from participating in the networks’ “V Week” annually at ESPN, and from knowing Vitale for over two decades. It means so much, in fact, that Greenberg donated the proceeds from his first novel, “All You Could Ask For,” to the V Foundation. The book was a tribute to a friend, Heidi Armitage, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“When you decide you're going to be a sports announcer ... " Greenberg said. "Look, it's a fabulous job. I love my job. It's fun. But you recognize that you're not doing something that is saving the world. You're not making the world a better place. You're not a firefighter or a doctor or a scientist who is going to cure cancer. When you can do something that actually feels like it's making a difference in the world, it's very gratifying. That’s why that book means so much to me and why being honored by The V Foundation means so much to me.”
Greenberg’s next non-sports venture is a children’s book he wrote with his wife, Stacy Greenberg, called “MVP: Most Valuable Puppy,” about the Greenberg family’s Australian Labradoodle, named Phoebe. Greenberg said proceeds from that book, released three days before the gala, will go toward pediatric cancer research.
A tip from me to you: Look up Phoebe on your social media site of choice, under either Mike or Stacy's accounts. Greenberg told me she was a “star,” and he was right. No wonder he said his posts about her get more engagement than anything sports-related.
Greenberg has already started jotting down ideas for his gala speech, thanks to a nasty case of pneumonia that knocked him out for a week with nothing else to do. (He was on the back end of the sickness when we talked, and still found him able to multitask an interview and picking up his son from school. A true hero dad.)
While Greenberg wouldn’t divulge details of his speech, he did say he’s going to tell a story about Vitale that is 20 years old. It’s a story that no one has heard before, he said, because only he and Vitale know it happened.
His years of television hosting have made him a master of the tease.