Jimmy V

If you watch ESPN at all, you would have had to have been under a rock the past week and a half to miss the replay of this speech. Every year at this time, it becomes a nightly ritual on the network during the Jimmy V Classic.

On March 3, 1993, former N.C. State basketball coach and ESPN basketball analyst Jim Valvano gave this speech at the ESPYs after receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. His body was riddled with cancer and he knew his time was short.

And his speech was magnificent. It’s one of those television moments I never grow tired of seeing. I’m sure the people I work with don’t feel the same way.  I’m sure they get tired of me turning the TV up every night to hear the speech when ESPN plays it. I don’t care.

In the speech, Valvano said he hoped to survive long enough to present the Ashe award the next year, but it didn’t happen. He fell victim to his cancer April 28, 1993.

Though he didn’t live much longer, there are two themes in his speech that have endured.

First, he very poignantly suggested how one could ensure they live each day to the fullest:

“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.”

Then he closed the speech with this:

“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.”

(Many mistakenly believe that his famous quote, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up,” came in this speech. It did not. It came two weeks earlier, February 21, 1993, at N.C. State’s celebration of the 10th anniversary of Valvano’s 1983 NCAA Championship squad.)

Valvano’s entire speech can be found in a text version here.

I hope that should I ever be unfortunate enough to face an unforgiving disease like cancer, that I might have the grace and class that Valvano did.

Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award
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