Michael A. Wittman
Michael “Mickey” Alexander Wittman, basketball legend, father of aerial sports broadcasting and dedicated family man, died on Tuesday, June 4, 2019, at the Hanson Hospice Center in Stevensville. He was 74 years old.
Never one to settle for less than his absolute best, Mickey continually challenged himself and strove each day to be better than the day before. From hardwood courts to the skies above the world’s biggest sporting events, Mickey achieved tremendous success through his own tenacious efforts. His loved ones are reeling from the loss of a man who lit up every room he was ever in. They will never forget the kind, funny and generous person they were fortunate to call a husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend.
Born on Sept. 26, 1944, in Queens, N.Y., Michael was the second child of Mike and Emily (Dischley) Wittman. Like the famous New York Yankee Mickey Mantle, Mike was the first to call his son by his lifelong epithet.
From a young age, Mickey demonstrated natural athletic ability. While attending Nanuet High School, where he excelled in multiple sports, Mickey once leaped onto the scorer’s table before tip off to declare he was going to get 50 points and “nobody can stop me.”
Even in his time at the University of Miami (Fla.), there were few who could stop Mickey. One of the Hurricanes’ all-time leading scorers and rebounders, the two-time MVP was a Miami Sports Hall of Fame inductee and Atlantic Coast Conference legend. After earning his bachelor’s degree in English literature, he continued his basketball career with the Phillips 66ers and Akron Wingfoots in the National Industrial Basketball League.
Mickey capped off his playing days with first-team all-league recognition in 1968. Although no longer on the court for the Wingfoots, he stayed on with Goodyear and began working with the tire company’s iconic blimp. Mickey recognized the potential for television opportunities and was instrumental in the development of the gyro-stabilized camera.
Inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2013, Mickey was known throughout the industry as the “father of aerial sports broadcasting.” During his career with Goodyear, he directed the blimp in covering more than 2,500 live sports events including six Olympics, 30 World Series, 26 Super Bowls and countless college football games.
While it was a thrill to broadcast three of his beloved Canes’ national championships, one of his proudest moments with Goodyear came during the 1989 World Series in San Francisco. The blimp was floating above Candlestick Park when a 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck. Staying up 60 consecutive hours, Mickey organized vital coverage of the devastation. Broadcasting colleagues credited Mickey and his crew with saving lives that day.
On the return flight from San Francisco, Mickey met Susan Contreras, a Delta Air Lines flight attendant. Upon arriving in New York, Mickey called his mother and said, “I just met someone, and I think she’s going to change my life.” The two married on Oct. 12, 1990, in St. Joseph and started a family in Akron, Ohio.
When Mickey retired from Goodyear in 2001, the family moved to St. Joseph. After nearly three decades of traveling more than 300 days a year, Mickey adjusted to small town life. In recent years, he became particularly passionate about bike riding. Forgoing a car just because he could, Mickey donned neon and rode his fat tire bike all over the area. When he wasn’t peddling, Mickey enjoyed reading, cheering for the Yankees and eating Chinese food.
But, even more than chicken and broccoli, Mickey treasured his family. Those closest to him never doubted his unconditional love for them. The definition of selfless, he worked tirelessly to provide and celebrated the successes of his family as though they were his own. Mickey enriched many lives, and his family members are better people for having known him.
Mickey will be missed by his wife of 28 years, Susan (Contreras); their two daughters, Alex and Colby; and his daughter, Paige, with first wife, Shirley. Among others remembering him fondly are his brother, Scott; grandchildren, Emerson and Scott; son-in-law, Eric (Nasstrom); and Susan’s family.
He was preceded in death by his mother and father, Emily and Michael; and his sister, Patricia (Bayles).
His family would like to thank Caring Circle’s Dr. Jason Beckrow, Kelly O’Donnell and Kunga Nyima along with the staff at Hanson Hospice Center for the compassion they showed Mickey in his final months.
In accordance with his wishes, there will be no services. Cremation has taken place. To offer condolences and share “Mickey stories,” please visit purelycremations.org.
In lieu of flowers, Mickey’s family asks anyone wishing to pay tribute to his memory simply gives his fellow bike riders adequate space on the road. For those wanting to take to two wheels themselves, Mickey would want all riders to remember to dress in bright colors.