First Take: Jimmy V’s Legacy
Sixteen years later, Jim Valvano continues to inspire…
After some careful consideration I decided I would be remiss not to talk about Jim Valvano in the wake of another Jimmy V Classic doubleheader at Madison Square Garden.
I will be recapping games and events throughout the season, so to take one day, one column to talk about such an influential individual seems like the obvious thing to do.
I’ve watched Valvano’s famed speech given at the 1993 ESPY’s more times than I can remember. I watch it every year at this time during ESPN’s broadcast of the event and I know I’ve watched it dozens of times on YouTube. I can recount all the famed excerpts in my mind almost verbatim and every time I hear them I always react the same way – I stop and think. It gives me perspective. In a world that has become so cynical, so angry, so pessimistic in the face of terrorism, war and economic crisis, Valvano’s words stand to show that no matter how dire a situation may seem, there is always something to be grateful for.
Here was a man staring death right in the face, knocking on its front door, and yet on the night that he announced the creation of the foundation that bears his name, he spoke with the fervor of a person with the world at their feet. And for that night, maybe Valvano had the world at his feet. In a room filled with men and woman recognized the world over as some of the most accomplished athletes on Earth, individuals praised for their physical ability and toughness, there was a middle aged man barely capable of climbing a flight of stairs bringing the room to its feet and bringing tears to their eyes.
It was classic Jimmy V, hamming it up with the audience telling stories of his comical first encounter with his Rutgers team during the early stages of his career. There was the loveable audacity to call out ESPN’s time keeper for trying to count him down off the stage in the midst of his stirring speech. Ultimately, when it came time to send the message home, he did so with a force that continues to resonate with the kind of power that is hard to give proper due in the written word or any other form.
The Jimmy V Foundation has raised over $90 million for cancer research and in doing so has taken Valvano’s legacy to almost mythical proportions. Few speeches in the history of sports have gone beyond the boundaries of the playing field in such a profound manner. Few acts in basketball’s long and colorful history have resonated with so many. Willis Reed’s dramatic entrance onto the floor of the Garden in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals inspired his teammates and the fans of New York. Michael Jordan and Nike inspired our nation’s youth during the early 90′s. Valvano inspired a movement.
Growing up I can remember taking part in Jimmy V Shoot-a-Thon’s with my town recreation league. Each player asked friends and family to donate a flat sum of money or a certain amount per free throw made. I doubt any of us even knew who Jim Valvano was at that point, but his name and his dream inspired action even at that age. We were helping people, we were fighting a terrible disease, even a pre-adolescent is going to understand the significance of that.
So rare are those who have the power and the fame to make a difference on the scale that Valvano has. A little over 70 years ago Lou Gehrig claimed he was the luckiest man on the face of the Earth in the wake of his terminal illness that goes by his name. More than five decades later, Jimmy V showed us we should all feel that way and not just once in a while, but every day.
We learn as children that many of the values we take from playing sports can be applied to our lives – Valvano exemplified this. He lived his life with the same zeal, the same passion that he coached with. He fought cancer with that passion until the day he died. His message has lived on with that same fire.
Am I any different from the countless writers who have written about this speech and what it has done in the 16 years since it was delivered? Of course not. Does this column provide an insightful message that is going to change people’s appreciation for Jimmy V? I’m not cocky enough in my abilities to think so.
On a day when people are remembering a great man and the legacy he has left behind, I chose to voice my appreciation. Game scores and recaps, those can be put aside for one day; they can be read about elsewhere on the web or in the paper.
Jim Valvano was blessed with the power to deliver a message greater than himself and greater than basketball. His choice has resonated beyond the game, beyond his being and made the kind of impact that is reserved for legends and heroes – a label very fitting of the coach.
I was given the power to voice and share my opinions with you the reader and today I made my choice…
Thank you Coach Valvano.