Longtime college basketball commentator Billy Packer, the voice of the NCAA Tournament for more than 30 years, died Thursday night. He is 82 years old.
Packer’s two sons, Mark and Brandt, announced the news Thursday night via Twitter.
The Packer family would like to share some sad news. Our wonderful father, Billy, has passed. We take comfort in knowing that he is in heaven with Barbon. RIP, Billy. 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/uFRixmgCcd
— Mark Packer (@MarkPacker) January 27, 2023
Mark Packer told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks, had multiple medical problems, and eventually died of kidney failure.
Packer was the lead college basketball analyst for 34 straight Final Fours, first at NBC and then CBS, and also worked as an analyst for ACC games at Raycom. He received a Sports Emmy in 1993 for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst.
Packer is the son of longtime basketball coach Anthony Packer, who spent 16 seasons as the head coach at Lehigh. After earning all-state honors as a high school student in Pennsylvania, Packer attended Wake Forest, where he was named All-ACC in 1961 and 1962. He helped the Demon Deacons to three ACC regular-season titles and their first Final Four appearance. 1962, Packer was named to the All-Region team.
He briefly entered the coaching profession before starting as an announcer in 1972. Packer told The Athletic in 2019 that he “didn’t have any goals of broadcasting.”
But within two years, Packer was on the invitation to the NCAA Tournament and the Final Four, and didn’t give up his seat until his departure in 2008.
“Halfway through my career I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore and it really knows the sport and its history. If I don’t enjoy doing it, I want to stop,'” he told The Athletic. “Well, I enjoyed my run, and now it’s time to go back and do the other things I love. The last game I watched in person was the last game I broadcast. That was the (2008) national championship game between Memphis and Kansas.”
After Myles Simon led Arizona to the 1997 national championship, Packer had the most famous calls in Final Four history.
He was 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 is the highest-rated game in basketball history with a 21.1 Nielsen rating, with an estimated 35.1 million viewers.
“He really enjoyed doing Final Force,” Mark Packer told the AP. “He got the timing right. Timing is everything in life. Frankly, he enjoyed the ability to commit to something he was going to watch anyway. Then college basketball started with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and that became the catalyst for college basketball fans to go crazy with March Madness.
Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports, said Packer “has been 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.”
“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the game,” McManus said in a statement. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always focused on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He left an area. CBS Sports, college basketball and more Above all, his legacy as a loving husband, father and grandfather, he will be greatly missed by all.
ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale was one of those who paid tribute to Packer on Twitter, writing, “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who was so passionate about college basketball.”
Very saddened to learn of the passing of college basketball legend Billy Packer. Go to my 🙏🙏🙏 Billy’s son @MarkPacker & the entire Baker family. Always had great respect for Billy and his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire – they were super. May Billy RIP.
— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) January 27, 2023
College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla He tweeted that: “We fell in love college basketball (with you) and your voice will be in my head forever.”
When Packer stepped down as CBS’s lead analyst in 2008 and was replaced by Clark Kellogg, the most prominent figures in college sports revealed Packer and their impact on the game.
“His understanding of men’s college basketball, his analysis of the game and his love of its place in higher education have ensured a legacy that anyone would envy,” the late NCAA president Miles Brandt said at the time. “He is a friend of intercollegiate athletics, and I want to thank him for his tremendous contributions to the NCAA’s Final Four and many other occasions over the years.”
“The only word to describe Billy is a giant,” former Big East commissioner Mike Trangies said in 2008. “I think his passion for the game and the way he delivered it was unmatched. It creates an incredible void. Those of us who are passionate about the game of college basketball are really going to miss him.”
Outside of his broadcasting career, Packer was involved in several business and real estate deals.
“Ever since I played my last basketball game in college, I wasn’t interested in competing in sports,” he told the Tampa Bay Times in 1999. “But I love the challenge of business deals. It’s the closest thing to me. It’s a game. It’s a game that adults can play.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.