The image will be forever etched in our collective psyche.
Jim Valvano frantically running around on the court, looking for someone to hug after his N.C. State team upset heavily favored Houston in the 1983 NCAA men’s basketball championship game.
Valvano’s Wolfpack wasn’t supposed to win that game, after all. Houston, led by future NBA Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, came into the title tilt on a 26-game winning streak.
But N.C. State, which had defied the odds throughout the NCAA Tournament, was undaunted -- even after its eight-point halftime lead disappeared and what had become known as the “Cardiac Pack” fell behind by seven in the second half.
And when Lorenzo Charles dunked an errant shot by Dereck Whittenburg at the buzzer, Valvano had what would be his signature victory—the one that defined his tremendous and turbulent 10 seasons at N.C. State.
At the same time, there is another more compelling image of Valvano, and it occurred in 1993, eleven months after he had been diagnosed with metastatic adenocarcinoma.
Valvano was at Madison Square Garden to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award, part of the ESPY Awards.. And just as he had done at Reynolds Coliseum the previous month in a ceremony to commemorate that memorable 1983 NCAA victory, Valvano invoked the words that would be his credo.
“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
Valvano’s words were strong, but his body was so wracked by cancer that his close friends Mike Krzyzewski, the long-time Duke coach, and broadcaster Dick Vitale had to help him down the stairs after he finished his speech. Those words still resonate and are resurrected every year as ESPN raises money for the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
Valvano urged everyone listening that night in the Garden and on national TV to do three things every day.
“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.”
Valvano famously went on to close by saying that cancer “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.”
He died 55 days later.
On December 6, 2018, N.C. State named the arena at Reynolds Coliseum the James T. Valvano Arena in honor of the coach, who compiled a 209-112 record in Raleigh. He won two Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament titles and two regular season crowns while coaching the Wolfpack.
For his accomplishments, Valvano has been named the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame Member of the Month for December. He was inducted into the NCSHOF in 1995.