One Man’s Legacy

Last night, Tuesday December 3, I turned on the television expecting to find a pre-game show for the basketball game between Syracuse and Indiana. I enjoy watching Syracuse basketball and lacrosse and rarely miss a game. However, rather than the pre-game show ESPN was playing a tape of Jimmy Valvano’s acceptance speech for the inaugural ESPY Award. ESPY stands for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award and it recognizes individual and team athletic achievement and other sports-related performance during a calendar year. The ESPY is also called the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. Jimmy Valvano, for those of you who don’t know, was a young flamboyant college basketball coach from the late 1960s through 1990. The high point of his career was when his team the North Carolina State Wolfpack defeated the heavily favored University of Houston Cougars in the NCAA Championship Game in 1983.

Last weekend, many you many of you may have seen what has now been called the most exciting ending of a college football game ever. The number one ranked Alabama Crimson Tide was defeated by the number four Auburn Tigers with only one second left on the clock. With the score tied Alabama decided to use the remaining second to try and kick a 53 yard field goal. The field goal fell short and an Auburn player caught the ball in his own end zone and ran 109 yards for a touchdown. A lot can happen in a second.

Jimmy running around the court

Jimmy running around the court

The end of that 1983 NCAA Championship Basketball Game has also been called one of the most exciting finishes in a college basketball game ever. NC State was a huge underdog and most experts believed had little chance of winning. With less than 30 seconds left and the score tied NC State had the ball and were desperately trying for one last shot. With just a few seconds left a player shot the ball 30 feet from the basket and it was obviously going to fall short. As the ball approached the basket with just a second or two left on the clock Lorenzo Charles, one of NC State’s forwards, jumped up caught the ball in midair and slammed it home for the winning basket. The final score was NC State 54 Houston 52. What ensued has become a classic in NCAA championship lore. Jim Valvano ran out on the court, among the celebrating players, running from one spot to another waving his arms as he later said “looking for someone to hug.”

In 1992 less than 10 years later, Valvano was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As a result of his courage and positive attitude he was chosen as the first ESPY Award recipient On March 3, 1993, shortly before his death, he gave his now famous acceptance speech. It was also at this time he and ESPN created The Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for cancer. Jim Valvano died a little over a month later at the age of 47.

One has to wonder, as I’m sure many of us do, if he ever thought life was unfair. In 1995 a 20 year old Boston University freshman went out on the ice for his first shift as a varsity hockey player. Eleven seconds later he was a quadriplegic. Travis Roy has said “There are times in our lives when we choose our challenges and other times when challenges simply choose us. It is what we do in the face of those challenges that defines who we are, and more importantly, who we can and will become.”
How did Jim Valvano accept his challenge? How does each of us except ours? Below is a link to the YouTube video where you can watch Jim Valvano’s ESPY speech and if you have never heard it I encourage you to listen. Oh, by the way Jim Valvano announced at the banquet the Foundation’s motto would be “Don’t Give Up …. Don’t Ever Give Up.”

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