Jim Valvano may be best known for his emotional and inspirational ESPYs speech but the Hall of Fame basketball coach was much more than a single moment. He was an NCAA champion, an athlete, broadcaster and philanthropist.
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The Queens, New York native may have lost his battle with cancer in 1993 but he left behind a legacy that, still, affects people, athletes or otherwise, to this day. Here’s what you need to know about the sports legend:
1. He Played College Basketball at Rutgers From 1964-67
Although he’s best known for his career as a coach, Valvano was a player first. In fact, he was a standout point guard at Rutgers University in the late 1960s.
Paired with fellow backcourt leader, and All-American, Bob Lloyd, Valvano led Rutgers to a third-place finish in the 1967 NIT, the last tournament held at the old Madison Square Garden. He was named Senior Athlete of the Year that season and graduated with a degree in 1967.
After Valvano’s death, Lloyd made a donation in his honor to have the Rutgers Basketball Hall of Fame named after him. There is also a mural dedicated to the former player inside the Rutgers men’s basketball locker room.
2. Valvano’s First Coaching Job Was at Johns Hopkins
After graduating from Rutgers in 1967, Valvano stayed with the program as the freshman coach and a varsity assistant. It didn’t take long for him to land his own head coaching job, however, and he earned his first opportunity on the sideline at Johns Hopkins in 1969.
During his first and only season at Johns Hopkins, Valvano led the Blue Jays to their first winning record in 24 years.
From there, Valvano took a job at Bucknell and established himself as a coach with less-than-conventional methods. His on-campus radio show began with the “Theme from the Godfather” and he actually wore a uniform during pregame warm-ups. He posted a 43-51 record with the Bison before heading to Iona in 1975.
3. He Was Named N.C. State Head Coach in 1980
Valvano, finally, found his coaching-place when he was hired as the head coach of the North Carolina State men’s basketball team on March 7, 1980. During his ten seasons with the Wolfpack, Valvano led his team to ACC Tournament championships in 1983 and 1987 and was named ACC Coach of the Year in 1989 as well.
However, Valvano will best be remembered for N.C. State’s improbable NCAA championship run in 1983. His famous reaction of running around the court looking for someone to hug after Lorenzo Charles’ game-winning shot is still one of the most iconic moments in all of college athletics. He explained what the victory meant to him:
My favorite quote was ‘Trees would tap dance, elephants would drive the Indianapolis 500 and Orson Welles would skip breakfast, lunch and dinner before N.C. State figured out a way to win the NCAA tournament.’ This team taught me that elephants are going to be driving in the Indianapolis 500 someday.
Valvano won over 200 games at N.C. State but was the center of a controversy when, in 1990, accusations of rules violations surfaced in the book Personal Fouls by Peter Golenbock. An NCAA investigation cleared Valvano of accusations that he had meddled with player’s SAT scores but found that players sold shoes and game tickets. As a result, N.C. State placed its program on probation for two years and was banned from participating in the 1990 NCAA Tournament. The findings of the NCAA investigation also forced Valvano to resign as the school’s athletic director.
4. Valvano Joined ESPN in 1990 & Their Partnership Lasted After He Was Diagnosed With Cancer
Following his coaching career, Valvano turned to broadcasting, joining ESPN and ABC sports as an analyst. He was frequently paired with Dick Vitale during basketball games and the two were dubbed the “Killer Vees” for their similar voices and exuberant styles.
In June 1992, the same year he won a a Cable ACE Award for his work during the NCAA basektball season, Valvano was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Although he took a short break from the sideline, Valvano was back on the broadcast in November and was honored by ESPN with the network’s Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the very first ESPYs in 1993.
Valvano and ESPN’s partnership continues to this day, more than a decade after his death, with the V Foundation for Cancer Research, a group that helps fund potential cures for cancer.
5. He Was Posthumously Inducted into the NYC Basketball Hall of Fame
Valvano’s legacy has been cemented, more than once, with a handful of posthumous Hall of Fame inductions. The legendary coach was first inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Fame in 1993. In 1999 he was inducted into the Hall of Distinguished Alumni at Rutgers as well as The New York City Basketball Hall of Fame and the North Carolina State Hall of Fame in 2012.