Billy Packer, a former Wake Forest and NCAA basketball player, was a broadcaster and college basketball analyst for almost 40 years. He was one of the most famous men in the sport and a major figure in the growth of college basketball in the mid-20th century. A former sports columnist, he was also a prolific writer and author. During his career, Packer worked with many top play-by-play broadcasters. His work with ESPN, CBS Sports and NBC, among other outlets, made him a fixture on television during the NCAA Tournament. During his time on the air, he was known for his candid on-air approach and his edgy opinions.
Packer, who played in the NCAA for Wake Forest, was named All-ACC in 1960 and was an All-Region selection in 1962. He played three seasons for the Demon Deacons and led the team to a NCAA Final Four appearance in 1962. In 2008, Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. At the time of his death, he was 82. The cause of his death was kidney failure.
During his career, Packer was one of the best television analysts in the history of the NCAA Tournament. He was a member of teams that called the first two Final Fours, as well as a member of the three-man crew that covered the 1979 national championship game. This was a landmark in college basketball and it remains the most watched basketball game in history.
After joining NBC, Packer worked with Al McGuire and Dick Enberg on the network’s first Final Four. In fact, Packer’s work on this telecast was so impressive, he was honored with the Sports Emmy Award for the best sports commentary in 1993. He also teamed up with Roland Lazenby on Fifty Years of the Final Four in 1987.
Packer was one of the best television analysts of the 1970s and 1980s. He joined NBC in 1975 to replace Tommy Hawkins as the network’s lead college basketball analyst. During his time on NBC, he worked with many of the top play-by-play broadcasters and wrote several books. One of his most memorable moments came during the 1997 national championship when he called the Arizona Wildcats’ title-game victory. He later penned a bestselling book about the game.
When he stepped down as NBC’s lead college basketball analyst, Packer moved to CBS. He became a fixture on NCAA Tournament telecasts and called the men’s and women’s Final Four for 27 years. During this time, he was credited with the popularity of the three-man telecast. Among his other awards, he received the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Media Award in 1996.
While he may have been a pioneer in the field of college basketball broadcasting, it was his savvy use of social media and other technology that really made his mark. Before his career began, Packer was a computer novice. He didn’t own a cell phone or an email account. But he was able to take advantage of these technologies to stay in touch with his friends and fans.