In case you're not aware, this past Saturday was the anniversary of James Valvano (aka Jimmy V)'s untimely death. Valvano passed away on April 28, 1993 after a year-long battle with cancer, and since he's a pretty big deal I figured I'd dedicate this week's spot to him.
I cannot begin to express how much of an impact this man has made to the sport that we know as college basketball, much less to the world as a whole. This man has made such an impression that, as I write this, I am fighting back tears as if he passed away yesterday and as if he were a close personal friend of mine. I invite you to take just a few moments to reflect on the life and untimely death of Jim Valvano, lovingly known to fans of college basketball as Jimmy V.
James Thomas Anthony Valvano was born on March 10, 1946, the middle child of Rocco and Angelina Valvano. Valvano attended Seaford High School on Long Island, New York where he met and eventually married his high school sweetheart, Pamela Levine. The couple were married for 25 years until his death and have three daughters; Nicole, Jamie, and Leigh Ann.
Valvano's basketball career began at Rutgers University, where he was the team's point guard. As a senior in 1967, Valvano was named the senior athlete of the year, and graduated from Rutgers with a degree in English in 1967. While Valvano was a basketball player in college, he is most known for his contributions to the sport as a coach and broadcaster at the college level.
During his basketball coaching career, which spanned 19 years, Valvano was a coach at several schools: Johns Hopkins, Bucknell, Iona, and North Carolina State. He is perhaps most well known for his coaching tenure at NC State, and even more notable for being the coach of the Wolfpack when they defeated Houston to win the 1983 NCAA National Championship. Valvano is mostly remembered for his animated celebration after the game, when he was seen joyfully running around the court looking for people to hug. Although he only won one National Championship, Valvano finished his coaching career with a 346-212 record. His coaching career was cut short, however, due to a recruiting scandal that hit NC State University in 1990.
In 1990, accusations of rules violations surfaced in the book Personal Fouls by Peter Golenbock. Two local newspapers and the NC State student paper called for Valvano to be fired as Head Coach. A 1989 NCAA investigation cleared Valvano of any wrongdoing, but found that some of the players sold shoes and game tickets. As a result, NC State placed its basketball program on probation for two years (the maximum penalty) and was banned from participating in the 1990 NCAA tournament.
The state-appointed Poole Commission issued a 32-page report that concluded that there were no major violations of NCAA regulations, and that Valvano and his staff's inadequate oversight of players' academic progress violated "the spirit, not the letter of the law." After this report, Valvano was forced to resign as the school's athletic director in October 1989. He remained as basketball coach through the remainder of the 1989-1990 season.
Under subsequent pressure from the school's faculty and new Chancellor, Valvano negotiated a settlement with NC State and resigned as basketball coach on April 7, 1990. Six separate entities investigated Valvano and the NC State basketball program including the NC State Faculty Senate, the North Carolina Attorney General, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, the NC State Board of Trustees, and the NCAA.
None of them found any academic, recruiting, or financial improprieties against Valvano or the school. The lead NCAA investigator in the case, Dave Didion, later wrote Valvano a letter saying that he (Valvano) represented everything that was good in college athletics, and that he would be proud for his son to play basketball for Valvano.
After his coaching career was cut short from this scandal, Valvano became a broadcaster for ESPN and ABC, covering college basketball. He was often paired with fellow broadcaster/analyst Dick Vitale, and the two formed a friendship that remained until Valvano's death. Valvano was a talented broadcaster, as he received the Cable ACE Award for Commentator/Analyst for NCAA Basketball broadcasting excellence in 1992.
Sadly, in June 1992, Jim Valvano was diagnosed with metastatic bone cancer, and in July of that same year, he found out that the cancer had spread throughout his entire body. On March 4, 1993, nearly one year after his diagnosis, Jim Valvano received the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award at ESPN's ESPY Awards show. On this night, he would make his now famous acceptance speech, where he introduced The V Foundation to the world.
When he announced the formation of The V foundation, he told the live audience that the motto would be "Don't give up, don't ever give up", a line taken from a motivational speech he had given just a month earlier. He is probably most known for the last statement he made at the ESPY Awards show; "Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever. I thank you and God bless you all." to which he received a lengthy and emotional standing ovation from the live audience.
Jim Valvano died less than two months after his inspiring ESPY speech at the age of 47, his body finally succumbing to the cancer that he had battled for almost a year. Valvano is interred at Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, North Carolina, and he is survived by his wife and three daughters.
While Valvano has passed on before us, his foundation still lives, raising money every year for cancer research. The NCAA helps in this effort each year by having the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament at the beginning of the college basketball season, and every August The Jimmy V Celebrity Golf Classic takes place at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, North Carolina. As of this writing, The V Foundation has raised over $80 million for cancer research.
The world of sports as we know it is a happy place. It is a place where we can come together and discuss the things that we love. It is a place where we can talk about our passions, our pride, and our fears. Sports is a place where two people can be bitter enemies during a 3-4 hour time span, and after that time is over, resume a friendship that has gone on for years.
But, more importantly, the world of sports is a place where people like Jimmy V can be remembered for all of the great things they have given to this world, things that transcend the world of sports and stay in the hearts of every individual who has ever been touched by the message that Valvano proclaimed. That message is a message of love. It is a message of peace. And, most of all, it is a message of hope.
To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special.
But most of all, as Jimmy V said so gracefully...
Don't give up, don't EVER give up.
Thank you for taking the time to reflect with me on this man's life and legacy, feel free to leave a comment about how Jimmy V has made a difference in your life, or in the life of someone you know.
I will always remember the man, the coach, and the legend.
Until next Monday...
Biographical information courtesy of Wikipedia