Longtime college basketball analyst Billy Packer died, his family announced Thursday evening. He was 82.
Packer was a fixture on telecasts of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament from 1975 through 2008, first with NBC until 1981 and then with CBS for the next 27 years, forming a memorable partnership with Jim Nantz. Upon being replaced by Clark Kellogg in 2008, he described the move as resulting from a mutual decision between himself and CBS. Following his sports broadcasting career, Packer worked in real estate.
“Our amazing father, Billy, has passed,” his son Mark Packer, who hosts college sports-oriented TV and radio shows on the ACC Network, wrote on Twitter. “We take peace knowing that he’s in heaven with Barb. RIP, Billy.”
Mark Packer told the Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized for the past three weeks with several illnesses, and that he ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.
In 1993, he received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Event Analyst. Other career honors include the Curt Gowdy Award from the National Basketball Hall of Fame and inductions into Halls of Fame relating to his connections with Wake Forest, North Carolina sports and the Polish American community.
Hailing Packer as having “set the standard of excellence” for Final Four broadcasts, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said in a statement: “He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport. In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game.
“As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man,” McManus continued. “He leaves part of his legacy at CBS, across college basketball, and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”
Among his signature calls was “Simon says championship,” as Arizona’s Miles Simon clutched the ball while the seconds ticked off in his Wildcats’ overtime win over Kentucky in the 1997 national title game.
Tributes poured in over social media Thursday night as news spread of Packer’s death.
“When College Hoops meant much more than just March Madness to even casual fans,” Pac-12 Network announcer Brian Webber tweeted, “Billy Packer was synonymous with the sport on network TV.”
Packer was “a huge voice in college basketball as it gained national popularity,” tweeted Sports Illustrated columnist Pat Forde.
With an assertive style that some found overly critical, Packer was a divisive figure among college basketball fans. As George Mason made a stunning run to the Final Four in 2006, he received backlash for having said the tournament should not have let in as many mid-major teams. In 1996, after referring to Georgetown guard Allen Iverson as “a tough monkey,” during a game broadcast, Packer said he “meant no offense” and “was not apologizing” because his comment was not related, he said, to Iverson being Black. He sent an apology to a pair of female Duke students in 2000 after they accused him of making sexist comments when they were checking credentials before a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Born Anthony William Paczkowski in Wellsville, N.Y., in 1940, Packer grew up as the son of a basketball coach at Lehigh University. Packer went on to become a standout player at Wake Forest and helped the Demon Deacons reach the Final Four in 1962. He started calling ACC games in 1972 and moved to a more national platform two years later.