Longtime college basketball commentator Billy Packer, the voice of the NCAA tournament for more than 30 years, died Thursday night. He was 82 years old.
Packer’s two sons, Mark and Brandt, announced the news via Twitter on Thursday evening.
The Packer family would like to share some sad news. Our amazing father, Billy, has passed away. We take peace knowing he’s in heaven with Barb. 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 and had several medical issues, eventually succumbing to kidney failure.
Packer was the lead college basketball analyst for 34 consecutive Final Fours, first at NBC and then CBS, while also working as an analyst for ACC games on Raycom. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.
Packer was the son of longtime basketball coach Anthony Packer, who spent 16 seasons as head coach at Lehigh. After earning all-state honors as a high school student in Pennsylvania, Packer attended Wake Forest, where he was named an All-ACC in 1961 and 1962. He helped lead the Demon Deacons to three regular-season titles from the ACC and their first Final Four appearance in 1962, when Packer was named to the all-regions team.
He briefly entered the coaching profession before making his debut as an announcer in 1972. Packer told The Athletic in 2019 that he «never set out to be a broadcaster».
But within two years, Packer was on call for the NCAA Tournament and Final Four games and didn’t give up his seat until his departure in 2008.
«I decided halfway through my career that one day I’m not going to do this again. One of the things that I said to myself is that I really like research and the study of the game and having the opportunity to interact with people I respect who really know the game and its history. And if I didn’t like doing that, I would quit,» he told The Athletic. «There’s a point where you say, OK, I enjoyed my run, and now it’s time to go back and do the other things I love. The last game I saw in person was the last game I broadcast. It was the  national championship game between Memphis and Kansas.»
Packer has some of the most famous calls in Final Four history, perhaps most notably saying, «Simon says…championship» after Miles Simon led Arizona to the 1997 national championship.
He was also on the show in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana State team in the game for the title. It remains the highest-rated game in basketball history with a Nielsen rating of 21.1, or approximately 35.1 million viewers.
«He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,» Mark Packer told the AP. «He timed it well. Everything in life is about timing. The opportunity to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy for him. And then college basketball kind of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, 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 has set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.»
«He had a huge impact on the growth and popularity of the sport,» McManus said in a statement. «Like Billy, he analyzed the game with his own style, perspective and opinions, always keeping the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, in his heart, Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy to CBS Sports, through college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all. .
ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale was among those who paid tribute to Packer on Twitter, writing: «So sad to hear of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for basketball university.»
So sad to hear of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball. My 🙏🙏🙏 goes to Billy’s son @MarkPacker & the whole Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire – they were great. May Billy RIP.
— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) January 27, 2023
College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted«We fell in love [with] college basketball because of you. Your voice will stay in my head forever.
When Packer left his position as CBS’ senior analyst and was replaced by Clark Kellogg in 2008, the most prominent figures in college sports expressed their admiration for Packer and his impact on the game.
«His understanding of men’s college basketball, his analysis of the game, and his love for his place in higher education have secured a legacy anyone can envy,» the late NCAA president said at the time. Myles Brand. «He’s a friend of intercollegiate athletics, and I want to thank him for the tremendous contributions he’s made to the NCAA Final Four tournament, as well as so many, many other occasions over the years. «
«The only word to describe Billy is a giant,» former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said in 2008. «His passion for the game and his presentation as he presented it is, I think, second to none. That creates an incredible void. Those of us who are passionate about college basketball, we will really miss him.»
Outside of his broadcasting career, Packer has been involved in a number of business and real estate transactions.
«Since I played my last basketball game in college, I haven’t had the urge to compete in sports,» he told the Tampa Bay Times in 1999. «But I love the challenge of trade deals. To me, that’s the closest thing to It’s a game grown-ups can play.»
The Associated Press contributed to this report.