"To me there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. No. 1 is laugh. You should laugh every day. No. 2 is think. You should spend some time in thought. No. 3 is, you should have your emotions moved to tears; it 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." - Jim Valvano
Legendary basketball coach James Thomas Valvano was born on March 10, 1946 in New York City. A member of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, he was named Senior Athlete Of The Year as he scored 1,122 points and led the team to a third place finish in the NIT. He graduated from Rutgers in 1967 with a degree in English, and immediately received a head coaching job at Johns Hopkins.
After leading John Hopkins to their first winning season in twenty-four years, Jimmy V bounced around, coaching at Bucknell and Iona before landing his dream job at North Carolina State. In 10 seasons Jimmy V compiled a 209-114 record with the Wolfpack, but the most memorable season was 1982-1983. Valvano led the Wolfpack to a 26-10 record and an ACC Championship. Despite the ACC title, they were statistically the #4 team in the conference, and after the team barely survived a two-overtime game against Pepperdine in the first round of the NCAA tournament, not much was expected of N.C. State. But the Wolfpack would shock the sports world with one of the most thrilling and memorable games in college basketball history, as they battled all the way to finals and defeated the top ranked and heavily favored Houston Cougars in Albuquerque on a last second dunk by Lorenzo Charles. Camera shots of Jimmy V running onto the court with both armed raised became a standard on ESPN Classic. N.C. State finished with the most losses of any NCAA champion.
"I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going. To be enthusiastic every day, and Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Nothing great could be accomplished without enthusiasm," to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems, whatever you have. The ability to be able to work hard for your dreams to come true, to become a reality."
Valvano continued to coach the Wolfpack and served as both coach and athletic director at N.C. State from 1986 until 1989, when a recruiting and admissions scandal forced him to resign. After an in-depth inquiry into the scandal, the NCAA's only finding was that players had been illegally selling sneakers and game tickets. Despite his absolution, Valvano did not return to coaching, instead signing on with ABC/ESPN as a broadcaster and analyst.
In 1992, the same year he was awarded the Cable Ace Award for Outstanding Sports Commentator/Analyst, Jim Valvano was diagnosed with terminal metastatic cancer of an unknown origin. He continued to broadcast with ESPN and touched the whole world with his speech at the first ever ESPY Awards in 1993, where he was awarded the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. During an impassioned speech filled with laughter and tears, Valvano reflected on life and basketball to a room full of red eyes. As his speech hit the seven minute mark and the teleprompter read 30 seconds, a teary-eyed Valvano laughed and said,
"That screen is flashing up there 30 seconds, like I care about that screen right now, huh? I’ve got tumors all over my body. I’m worried about some guy in the back going, 30 seconds? You got a lot, hey va fa napoli, buddy. You got a lot."
Valvano went on to announce the formation of the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research. Its motto, one that Coach V lived by, was "Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up." Valvano pledged to fight the disease as long as he could; he wanted to return to give the Arthur Ashe Award to the next recipient.
Valvano never made it to the next award show. He died on April 28, 1993 at the age of 47. To date, the Jimmy V Foundation has raised over $23 million dollars for cancer research.
"Cancer can take away all 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."