Jimmy Valvano and his “Don’t Give Up” speech at the ESPYs became an instant classic. Previously, he was best known as the first NC State men’s basketball coach who upset heavily favored Houston in the 1983 NCAA Championship. Now, he’s probably just as famous for this ESPYs speech.
Jimmy Valvano at the ESPYs
After NC State upset highly favored Houston in the 1983 NCAA Championship with a memorable dunk at the buzzer by Lorenzo Charles, those who watched the game will not forget Jimmy Valvano running up and down the court searching for someone to hug.
People also remember Jimmy Valvano for his memorable speech while accepting the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award shortly before he died of cancer. Valvano announced the formation of the “V Foundation,” an organization dedicated to finding a cure for cancer, and its motto: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
Jimmy Valvano — 1993 ESPY speech
Complete Jimmy V Speech: Don’t Ever Give Up
(Editor’s note: Subheads were added for more readability)
Thank you very much. Thank you. That’s the lowest I’ve ever seen Dick Vitale since the owner of the Detroit Pistons called him in and told him he should go into broadcasting.
I can’t tell you what an honor it is to even be mentioned in the same breath with Arthur Ashe. This is something I certainly will treasure forever. But, as it was said on the tape, and I also don’t have one of those things going with the cue cards, so I’m going to speak longer than anybody else has spoken tonight. That’s the way it goes. Time is very precious to me. I don’t know how much I have left and I have some things that I would like to say. Hopefully, in the end, I will have something that will be important to other people too.
Now I’m Fighting Cancer
But I can’t help it. Now I’m fighting cancer. Everybody knows that. People ask me all the time about how you go through your life and how’s your day, and nothing is changed for me. As Dick said, I’m a very emotional and passionate man. I can’t help it.
That’s being the son of Rocco and Angelina Valvano. It comes with the territory. We hug, we kiss, we love. When people say to me how do you get through life or each day, it’s the same thing. To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives.
Three Things To Do Every Day per Jimmy Valvano
Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is: think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears, which 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.
I rode on the plane up today with Mike Krzyzewski, my good friend, and a wonderful coach. People don’t realize he’s ten times a better person than he is a coach, and we know he’s a great coach. He’s meant a lot to me in these last five or six months with my battle. But when I look at Mike, I think we competed against each other as players. I coached against him for fifteen years, and I have always had to think about what’s important in life to me are these three things. Where you started, where you are, and where you’re going to be.
Those are the three things that I try to do every day. When I think about getting up and give a speech, I can’t help it. I have to remember the first speech I ever gave.
Coaching at Rutgers University — Jimmy Valvano
I was coaching at Rutgers University; that was my first job, oh, that’s wonderful, and I was the freshman coach. That’s when freshmen played on freshman teams, and I was so fired up about my first job. I see Lou Holtz here. Coach Holtz, what was it like the very first job you had? The very first time, you stood in the locker room to give a pep talk. That’s a special place, the locker room, for a coach to give a talk.
So my idol as a coach was Vince Lombardi, and I read this book, Commitment to Excellence, by Vince Lombardi. And in the book, Lombardi talked about the first time he spoke before his Green Bay Packers team in the locker room, and they were perennial losers. I’m reading this, and Lombardi said he was thinking should it be a long talk, a short talk? But he wanted it to be emotional, so it would be brief.
Jimmy Valvano Locker Room Speech
So here’s what I did. Normally you get in the locker room, I don’t know, twenty-five minutes, a half-hour before the team takes the field, you do your little x and o’s, and then you give the great Knute Rockne talk. We all do—speech number eighty-four. You pull them right out. And, you get ready.
You get your squad ready. Well, this is the first one I ever gave, and I read this thing. Lombardi, what he said was he didn’t go in; he waited. His team was wondering, where is he? Where is this great coach? He’s not there. Ten minutes he’s still not there.
Inspiration from Lombardi
Three minutes before they could take the field, Lombardi comes in, bangs the door open, and I think you all remember what great presence he had, great presence. He walked in, and he walked back and forth, like this, just walked, staring at the players. He said, “All eyes on me.” I’m reading this in this book.
I’m getting this picture of Lombardi before his first game, and he said, “Gentlemen, we will be successful this year if you can focus on three things, and three things only. Your family, your religion, and the Green Bay Packers.”
They knocked the walls down, and the rest was history. I said, “That’s beautiful.” I’m going to do that. Your family, your religion, and Rutgers basketball. That’s it. I had it. Listen, I’m twenty-one years old. The kids I’m coaching are nineteen, and I’m going to be the greatest coach in the world, the next Lombardi.
I’m practicing outside of the locker room, and the managers tell me you got to go in. Not yet, not yet, family, religion, Rutgers basketball. All eyes on me. I got it. I got it. Then finally he said, three minutes; I said fine. True story. I go to knock the doors open just like Lombardi. Boom! They don’t open.
I almost broke my arm. Now I was down; the players were looking. Help the coach out, help him out. Now I did like Lombardi, I walked back and forth, and I was going like that with my arm getting the feeling back in it.
Finally, I said, “Gentlemen, all eyes on me.” These kids wanted to play. They’re nineteen. “Let’s go.” I said, “Gentlemen, we’ll be successful this year if you focus on three things and three things only. Your family, your religion, and the Green Bay Packers,” I told them. I did that. I remember that. And, I remember where I came from. It’s so important to know where you are. I know where I am right now.
How do you go from where you are to where you want to be?
I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. You have to be willing to work for it.
I talked about my family. My family’s so important. People think I have courage. The courage in my family are my wife Pam, my three daughters here, Nicole, Jamie, LeeAnn, and my Mom, who’s right here too. That screen is flashing up there thirty seconds like I care about that screen right now, huh? I got tumors all over my body. I’m worried about some guy in the back going thirty seconds?
You got a lot, hey va fa NAPOLI, buddy. You got a lot. I just got one last thing; I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going. To be enthusiastic every day and Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing great could be accomplished without enthusiasm,” to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems whatever you have.
The ability to be able to work hard for your dreams to come true, to become a reality. Now I look at where I am now, and I know what I want to do.
Give Hope to Others
What I would like to be able to do is spend whatever time I have left and to give, and maybe, some hope to others. Arthur Ashe Foundation is a wonderful thing, and AIDS, the amount of money pouring in for AIDS is not enough, but is significant. But if I told you, it’s ten times the amount that goes in for cancer research. I also told you that five hundred thousand people will die this year of cancer.
I also tell you that one in every four will be afflicted with this disease, and yet somehow, we seem to have put it in a little bit of the background. And, I want to bring it back to the front table. We need your help. I need your help.
We Need Money For Research
We need money for research. It may not save my life. It may save my children’s lives. And, it may save someone you love, and ESPN has been so kind to support me in this endeavor and allow me to announce tonight that with ESPN’s support, which means what? Their money and their dollars, and they’re helping me; we are starting the Jimmy V Foundation for cancer research.
And its motto is, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” That’s what I’m going to try to do every minute that I have left. I will thank God for the day and the moment I have; if you see me, smile and give me a hug. That’s important to me too. But try if you can to support, whether it’s AIDS or the cancer foundation, so that someone else might survive, might prosper, and might actually be cured of this dreaded disease.
I can’t thank ESPN enough for allowing this to happen. I’m going to work as hard as I can for cancer research, and hopefully, maybe, we’ll have some cures and some breakthroughs. I’d like to think. I’m going to fight my brains out to be back here again next year for the Arthur Ashe recipient. I want to give it next year!
I know I gotta go, I gotta go, and I got one last thing, and I’ve said it before, and I want to say it again. Cancer can take away all 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.
By Mike O’Halloran
Mike is the founder and editor of Sports Feel Good Stories.
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