Jimmy Valvano's Lessons Are More Important Than Ever at 30th Anniversary
"Don't give up. Don't ever give up."
Few quotations in sports live on like this one forever in our minds. When I hear those words, I see Jim Valvano delivering a powerful speech at the ESPYs less than two months before he would lose his battle with cancer in April, 1993.
Thirty years ago today, Valvano's message was born. His North Carolina State team, which easily could have given up many times in that year, pulled off the most improbable championship in the history of college basketball.
How? With hope, survival and love.
That's what Valvano was all about. That's how he lived. That's how he coached in 1983.
This week, former Rutgers coach Mike Rice stole the headlines away from the Final Four with a very different message.
The upsetting footage from ESPN's Outside the Lines feature are also tough to erase from memory.
Rice represents the worst side of sports.
The coach had a difficult task, taking over a basketball program three years ago that has not made the NCAA tournament since 1991. But he motivated with fear and intimidation, crossing the line by physically and verbally attacking his players.
Survival of a much different nature was likely the cause. Sometimes, perspective is lost because of the pressure to win. But pressure doesn't always lead to ugliness, and Valvano's Wolfpack are a nice reminder of that.
NC State thrived under pressure in 1983. The Wolfpack were 17-13 before the ACC tournament that year, and likely would have missed the NCAA tournament if they hadn't won the conference tourney.
They trailed in the final minute in seven of their final nine wins, including being down six in overtime in their opening-round game against Pepperdine. They would have been a forgotten footnote had it not been for an amazing comeback to force a second overtime, which the Wolfpack won.
They trailed by 12 in the next round against UNLV, and again, survived and advanced. After blowing past Utah and taking down higher-seeded Virginia and Georgia, the underdog NC State squad would head into the tournament finals looking to make history.
They faced a seven-point deficit in the championship game and rallied to win on a last-second bucket by Lorenzo Charles to beat Houston's "Phi Slamma Jamma," a team that had two players (Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler) who would go on to become NBA legends and Hall of Famers.
That play—Dereck Whittenburg's air ball and Charles being in the right place at the right time—was the one time a Cinderella had a perfect ending. Valvano running around the court looking for someone, anyone, to hug was the perfect celebration.
Hope, survival and love. All captured in one night. Reason to never give up.
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