It’s hard to imagine now, but Jim Valvano spent most of his career as one of the more controversial figures in the history of college basketball. But the NYC-born head coach of the 1983 National Champion North Carolina State Wolfpack ended his career as one of the most appreciated.
Valvano played point guard at Rutgers, and guided the team to a third-place finish in the NIT (when that was the more prestigious event over the NCAA Tournament) his senior year of 1967 before graduating and embarking on a career in coaching.
In 19 seasons as a head coach at Johns Hopkins, Bucknell, Iona, and finally North Carolina State where he was in charge for one of the great upsets in the history of college basketball: The Wolfpack stunning Phi Slamma Jamma and the Houston Cougars in the final of the 1983 NCAA Tournament.
His time in Raleigh came to an end under a bit of a cloud, as the school was on probation for academic issues and things like players selling shoes and tickets to boosters. In the era of NIL, small things where players receive money sound quaint, but Valvano was also the athletic director of the school at the time (another thing you’d never see in 2022). He was forced to resign in 1990, and ended up working for ESPN as an analyst.
Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with terminal metastatic adenocarcinoma, a form of glandular cancer.
In 1993 at the first ESPY awards, Valvano gave a speech while receiving an award while undergoing cancer treatment that inspired the start of the Jimmy V fund upon his passing. It’s one of the great motivational speeches of all time. And it lives as the motto of the Jimmy V Foundation, which has raised over $300 million for cancer research since his death.
Valvano passed away on April 28, 1993, just 55 days after that speech.