I start this story talking about my passion for sports, to lead up to a speech given by a sports figure that to me will live in infamy. If you are feeling down, this speech should lift your spirits, it lifts mine
I live and breath sports. They are a big part of my life. In my youth, I played every sport to at least the high school level. Basketball was my passion, we didn’t have school, you could always find me in the schoolyard.
If I got into an argument with my wife, I would leave the house and find somewhere to play basketball even it was pitch black. It was my escape from reality sometimes in life we get down, and at the moment it seems overwhelming, it seems depressing and sometimes you wonder. What is life about? When I get down I listen to Jim Valvano‘s speech as the first recipient of an ESPY award on ESPN.
Both of us are Italiano and from NYC, so I could relate to him, above and beyond that, he was a great coach, great guy, great family man, and a great speaker. It was a shame he died in his forties from cancer.
Sports is sports — until it isn’t. Sometimes sports become a moment in time that reaches far beyond the X’s and O’s.
The following is his speech
At the ESPYS, which you had to see to really feel how passionate he was. He always said, Don’t give up, Don’t ever give up. Those words resonate with me. If your interested in hearing it. Here is his speech in writing.
The first ESPYS award show sponsored by ESPN was in 1993. Coach Jim Valvano’s acceptance speech for the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award was that kind of moment.
He gave the world these words that have transcended sports and still reverberate today. “If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day.” That speech is his legacy — and ours. And those who remember it, who remember him, relive that moment, annotate his words and remember where they were and when.
Thank you. 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, at the end, I will have said something that will be important to other people, too.
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. No. 1 is laugh. You should laugh every day. No. 2 is think. You should spend some time in thought. No. 3 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 heckuva 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 wonderful coach. People don’t realize he’s 10 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 15 years, and I always have 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 giving a speech, I can’t help it. I have to remember the first speech I ever gave.
The Vince Lombardi Story
I was coaching at Rutgers University. That was my first job. Oh, that’s wonderful [reaction to applause], 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, who doesn’t 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 called “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 or a short talk? But he wanted it to be emotional, so it would be brief.
So here’s what I did. Normally you get in the locker room, I don’t know, 25 minutes, a half-hour before the team takes the field. You do your little X’s and O’s, and then you give the great Knute Rockne talk. We all do. Speech No. 84. You pull them right out. 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 wondering, where is he? Where is this great coach? He’s not there. Ten minutes, he’s still not there. 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 21 years old. The kids I’m coaching are 19, 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 19. “Let’s go,” I said. “Gentlemen, we’ll be successful this year if you can 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. 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, my mom, who’s right here too. That screen is flashing up there 30 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, “30 seconds?” You got a lot, hey, Và Fà a 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.