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Billy Packer: Can’t Work Today Due to Political Correctness; Dean Smith Best Overall Coach

Packer Demanded He be Removed From Wake Forest Hall of Fame

john thompson dean smith

Did you have any biases while working broadcasts? Were you rooting for any of the two teams that you called?

With two exceptions, I never rooted for either team of any games I broadcast.

The first time was the 1975 NCAA title game, I pulled for John Wooden’s UCLA team. I had gotten to know Coach Wooden. We knew it was his last game. He retired at 64. UCLA beat a solid Kentucky team led by Kevin Grevey. The second time was in the 80s. Bob Staak was coaching Wake and he was struggling. His job was on the line. A win over NC State would have helped him. I had gotten to know him and found myself rooting for him. After Wake lost in overtime, I went to the State locker room and informed Coach Jim Valvano that I was pulling for Staak. He looked me in the eye and said, “Billy, so was I. Bob and I go back to Connecticut days. We were there together. We’re friends.”

All those years, so many miles, so many hours on the largest of platforms! It seemed like you tiptoed away in 2008. What happened at CBS?

It was a unique setup that worked well for years.  Late in our relationship, March Madness was huge and it became evident to me that CBS wouldn’t use my business services much longer. Before the final season, 2007-08, the network simply wanted me to call the games. So I told management that it would be my final year. I asked that it not be announced and CBS agreed. I worked year-to-year and never had an agent. I cut my own deals.

Basketball was a critical part of your life until your late sixties, do you miss watching the competition of the games including all the ACC matchups you played in for Wake Forest and later broadcast?

No, I don’t. If I had a choice between going to a Duke-North Carolina game or a Roy Williams practice, I would take the practice. That’s where you pick things up.

Why practice?

Jerry West and Red Holzman attended more practices than games. You witness work ethic, competitiveness, desire and little things. Michael Jordan wanted to win every practice. It’s where I appreciated his greatness.

Give me an example please.

It was at a practice at Tennessee that I learned never to believe what others say. I learned to develop my own conclusions.

We were told that Bernard King had a bad attitude and that he had gotten himself into trouble on campus. We expected to see his teammate Ernie Grunfeld outhustle him. Not the case. What I witnessed was Bernard in full sweat practicing his post moves. You can’t have pre-conceived notions. Go in with an open mind and draw up your own thoughts.

Could you work games today?

No. Political correctness gets in the way. It’s not who I am? It’s too restrictive. I want to say what’s on my mind.

Do you follow the game now?

One and done. I can’t tell you the name of one player on Kentucky. If I talked on-air about the state of the game today I would be fried. I saw these problems coming.

If you had four hours left in your basketball life, how you would spend it?

Watch practice. I would love to see Tony Bennett of Virginia, John Beilein of Michigan and Mark Few of Gonzaga run practices. It’s where you can assess the guts of a team.

What was your relationship like with John Thompson?

When I worked with Gary Bender, we had a game at Georgetown and I had my son Mark with me. So we came at our pre-arranged time to practice. Gary, Mark and I walk in. We stand in the corner. After a few minutes, John glares over to us, “Billy, who’s that young man with you?” I tell him it’s my son, Mark. John blares out, “My son doesn’t come with me unless he’s invited.” It was an embarrassing moment. But I learned something that stuck with me forever. The gym is a coach’s office. If you’re not invited to someone’s office, don’t go. John’s line stuck with me.

In 1996, after a move by Allen Iverson, I said, “You’re talking about a tough monkey here.” My dad was a coach and he used the expression as an absolute compliment.  Word got out and the media followed me like a collection of the paparazzi.  John Thompson and I talked after the game- and he told Iverson in front of me – “You don’t have to worry about Billy.” Thompson said to me, “I’ll handle the media.” He and Iverson defended me.

How about Jim Boeheim?

Early on, because I was based in the South, he thought I was an enemy of the Big East. After a while though we developed trust and a solid relationship.

Who are the top coaches you covered?

Al McGuire bench coach; Denny Crum -strategist; Jerry Tarkanian – eye for talent; Dean Smith – best overall -great recruiter, stable program, consistency, teacher, excellent practices, everyone treated equally from Michael Jordan to the last guy on the bench.

Best practice Coaches- Jim Calhoun, Rick Pitino and Larry Brown

You were selected to Wake Forest’s Hall of Fame. Years later, you asked the school to withdraw your name What in the world happened? Pulling your name forever off an esteemed and glistening list. Wow!

I recruited Charlie Davis when I was an assistant coach at Wake. He was the second African-American basketball player ever to play for the school. This is like 1968. He was the first ever African American ACC MVP.  He never got his degree but after he played some pro ball, I helped him land a job at Wake and as part of the agreement he earned his college degree too. After some period, he called me and said that Wake wouldn’t allow him to advance. I reached out to the president on Charlie’s behalf but eventually he was let go. So I helped him file a grievance and eventually the university agreed to compensate Charlie and write him a letter of recommendation for future job applications elsewhere. It was unfair so when it was over, I just told Wake to remove me from the Hall of Fame.

You’ve said that broadcasting was a hobby. What really puts the meals on your table?

Mostly real estate. I do restoration historical housing and I collect special art pieces like original Picasso ceramics


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David J. Halberstam
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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Barry Kipnis

I would not have guessed that Al McGuire would be picked as the “best bench coach” so you live and learn so to speak. I thought Hank Raymonds sitting alongside Al did most the work in that regard.