Scott Fowler: Billy Packer, who broadcast 34 Final Fours, dies at 82 in Charlotte. He was one of a kind.

Scott Fowler, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Basketball

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, a charismatic curmudgeon who played in a Final Four for Wake Forest and then broadcast 34 more of them as a TV analyst, died Thursday in Charlotte. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had several medical issues, had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past several weeks and ultimately died of kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting style wasn’t for everybody, but I was a fan. He was instantly incisive as a broadcaster and something of an anti-Dick Vitale. You would never see Packer climbing into a mosh pit with students before the game and ramping up the crowd.

Packer was smart, bald-headed, hard-headed and as old school as they come. I remember interviewing him once in 2011 and him dismissing the internet entirely.

“I don’t have a blog or computer or any of that,” Packer said.

If you wanted to reach Packer, you called him. He didn’t use email. He didn’t tweet. No matter whether he was working for NBC, CBS or someone else, Packer didn’t hobnob with coaches. He didn’t know their wives’ names.


But Packer recognized the swirling patterns in a basketball game a half-second before anyone else, and pointed them out so succinctly that he called every Final Four from 1975-2008. Those included the Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird classic in 1979, Michael Jordan’s game-winning jumper for UNC in 1982, Lorenzo Charles’ dunk to win the championship for N.C. State in 1983 and Duke’s back-to-back national titles in 1991 and 1992.

His insights were sharp and could be caustic. Packer’s no-nonsense broadcasting style was perceived as negative among a certain segment of every school’s fan base. As he told me in a 2006 interview about his style: “It’s ‘Why are you so against us?’ I get that all the time. But to me, there must be some balance there if everyone is saying that.”

For instance, in 2007, Duke’s Gerald Henderson broke the nose of UNC star Tyler Hansbrough on a play that was deemed a flagrant foul and caused Henderson to be ejected. Packer said on-air that Henderson got a raw deal and should have only been charged with a common foul. UNC fans were riled by Packer’s comments.

“I don’t care about that,” Packer told me later. “This is just one man’s opinion. If someone doesn’t like it, that’s OK.”


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