March Madness - Remembering Jim Valvano
"Don't Give Up...Don't Ever Give Up"
Every year during the month of March, the entire nation seems immersed in an ongoing conversation regarding "bracketology" -- an exercise in which sports fans from the most serious to the most casual are busy filling out their matrix in guessing which collegiate basketball team will win the annual NCAA College Basketball National Championship. In previous GNN Blogs we have celebrated touchstone teams (e.g.,Texas Western Miners who won the 1966 national title as the first team to start five African-American players in a title game) and amazing coaches (e.g., UCLA's head coach John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood who piloted the Bruins to 10 national titles in 12 years). But this year we remember a very special man (appropriately born in the month of March) whose legacy transcends the basketball court: Jim Valvano.
James Thomas Anthony Valvano (March 10, 1946 - April 28, 1993), nicknamed Jimmy V, had a successful head coaching career with various schools, most notably with North Carolina State University. As the head coach of the NC State Wolfpack, Valvano led his team in 1983 to perhaps the most surprising national championship in NCAA tournament history. The Wolfpack qualified for the NCAA Tourney, but with a 3rd place finish in its conference were not favored to advance very far. However, big things were in store for Valvano's squad as they "survived and advanced" -- (a phrase coined by Valvano himself) -- by registering a double overtime victory against Pepperdine in the first round, and then riding that momentum all the way into the Finals where the Wolfpack would be matched against the heavily-favored Houston Cougars (who were top-ranked nationally and a #1 seed). The Wolfpack (ranked 16th nationally and a #6 seed) became the champion of underdogs by scoring a last second basket as time expired to win 54-52.
In the moments immediately following this surprising victory, Valvano was immortalized in sports video history as he was shown running around the court looking for somebody to hug while celebrating the Wolfpack's improbable national title. This video clip is always shown during "March Madness" as one of the tournament's most celebrated moments as it captures the unbridled joy of triumph in the face of overwhelming odds. Much has been written about Valvano's inspirational leadership and the deep personal relationship he established with his players during that amazing championship run, and we commend the GNN audience to read these wonderful books to learn more. For those who enjoy video programs, there is the ESPN "Survive and Advance" documentary on Valvano and the NC State 1983 NCAA championship as part of the network's 30 for 30 - Volume II anthology series.
While these celebrated coaching and athletic accomplishments are noteworthy of commemoration, there is much, much more to the life of Jim Valvano. Nearly 30 years after his passing, Valvano's legacy continues to inspire millions of people because of the courage and inspiration he demonstrated in the public eye while terminally ill with cancer. During this heroic battle, Valvano affirmed the timeless values of love, hope and persistence with the public rallying cry of "Don't give up, don't ever give up." Several weeks before his passing, Valvano delivered the following remarks while accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award, and it is these words that reflect the legacy of an inspired life:
"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."
In this same speech, Valvano closed by saying that "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."
As we get ready for March Madness by filling out our brackets, let's also take a moment to celebrate the March birthday of Jim Valvano while remembering an inspired life that made him both a hero on and off the basketball court as well as a legend of the game.