It was during the aftermath of the 1983 NCAA Men's National Championship that we as a nation first were exposed to the exuberance and positive nature of NC State Coach Jimmy Valvano.
After the buzzer-beating dunk that led to the final score of an NC State victory of 54-52, we were treated to "Jimmy V."—as he is affectionately called even to this day—hurriedly making his way down the court almost in disbelief, looking for someone to hug.
The 1983 N.C. State Wolf Pack squad was a team with a lot of heart, and their unlikely rise to the top of the NCAA was the mark of a well-coached team. Jimmy Valvano, as we would learn later, was a man who had the gift of inspiration, and not just on the basketball court.
Those of us who are not NC State college basketball fans (or not sports junkies either for that matter) more than likely had our first exposure to Valvano during the 1993 ESPY awards. The previous months leading up to this speech had been exceedingly trying for Jimmy V. In June of 1992 he was diagnosed with bone cancer and a month later he found out it had metastasized.
During the ESPY awards in March of 1993, Valvano was quoted in his speech with the following:
Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, it cannot touch my soul. And these things are going to carry on forever.
Jimmy V. would pass away two months after giving that legendary speech.
So why does Valvano's inspirational speech matter today?
His speech and his outlook on life matter today because he taught all of us how to live life well. Although he knew his time was short, he advised all of us that we needed to remember to laugh, to think, and to have "our emotions moved to tears" either through "happiness or joy."
His leadership ability during this obviously heart-wrenching time in his life was truly astonishing as well.
He can, even today, serve as an inspiration for other cancer patients as well. It was during this time in the latter part of his life that he announced the formation of the V. Foundation, which would be dedicated to finding a cure for cancer. Their guiding motto at the time was "Don't give up...don't ever give up." Indeed, Jimmy Valvano was truly a courageous man.