This archived article was written by: Nate Davis
On ESPN a few weeks ago, I watched the Jimmy V. Classic, an annual early season NCAA basketball game. After every commercial break they had something on the game’s namesake, Jim Valvano – they talked about his life, death and legacy. Valvano was the head coach for North Carolina State University basketball team. He was a great coach and an even better person, and he has become one of my personal heros.
While I was growing up, my parents constantly reminded me of three simple words- never give up. This became a motto for the Davis family. I was reminded of this in everything I did, whether I had struck out in a baseball game or had some other sort of setback, my parents were there telling me to never give up. While my parents gave me the motto, sports gave the example.
When I hear those words, my mind instantly jumps to Valvano. He coached NCSU to a NCAA National Championship in 1983. That feat itself would have made him an example of never giving up, since his Wolfpack won the tournament despite being huge underdogs. They earned the nickname the “Cardiac Pack,” thanks to winning a handful of close games including the championship, which ended with a game-winning dunk.
Valvano exemplified the phrase “never give up” during his life-ending battle with bone cancer. He was diagnosed with bone cancer in June 1992, and by early ’93, he was in the last months of his life. He cherished every minute he had, and during the 1993 ESPY awards, he received the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award.
During his acceptance speech, Valvano gave great advice for living life. He said “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 … 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.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing great could be accomplished without enthusiasm.” Anyone who is familiar with Valvano can recall his final plea, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”
Wouldn’t the sporting world be better if the athletes would forget about the money, the fame and other things that cloud many athletes’ vision, and remembered the pure joy of sports?
That was Valvano’s last message to the world, everyone needs to have a dream, a goal, and try to accomplish great feats. After all, isn’t that what sports is really all about?