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I wrote this column over five years ago and it seemed to be a favorite of everybody’s. Since it is Jimmy V Week again on ESPN and there will be a lot of attention on cancer research through the V Foundation, I figured this would be worth reprinting. That speech is still one of the most amazing 15 minutes I’ve ever seen on television.
Every year about this time due to the Jimmy V Classic basketball tournament, I get a little nostalgic whenever ESPN starts showing all the Jim Valvano and N.C. State video. Since my college years coincided with the last four years of his coaching career, I get especially reflective whenever I see the famous ESPY speech he delivered while practically being at death’s door. I watched it again Tuesday night, but this year I did something a little different. I recorded it and had my two boys sit down with me and watch it without any distractions. I feel like they are old enough now to maybe understand where he was coming from.
Now, they know about Jimmy V because he was State’s basketball coach and they love the Wolfpack. They think of him as the crazy coach running around the floor after the Pack won the 1983 NCAA championship looking for somebody to hug. What they don’t know is he did his best work long after he stopped coaching.
I was lucky enough to hear him speak a couple of different times and let me tell you, he could move you. He could bring you to tears with one story, have you laughing so hard your side hurt with another and fired up and ready to take down the evil empire after another story. All in 20 minutes. He was that good of a speaker.
If you really analyze his ESPY speech, there are three parts that stand out to me. So here are my favorites.
“There are three things you should do every day. Number 1, you should laugh every day. Number 2 is you should spend some time in thought. And number 3, you should have your emotions moved to tears whether it be happiness or joy. 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.”
Think about that for a second. There is nothing better than a good laugh. It feels good. It’s usually free and it is even better if you can laugh at yourself because that means you aren’t taking yourself too serious. We need more laughter.
How often do you take some time to sit and think? I mean really focus on something from the beginning to the middle to the end. I can think of hundreds of times I wished I had stopped and thought something through and I would have been better off. (I am betting my wife would say that estimate is a little low when she reads this.)
Have your emotions ever moved you to tears? That just means you are living. You care about the world and people around you. Good and bad. Anybody seen the new Dick’s Sporting Goods Store commercial where the older brother gives the younger brother his baseball glove? It tore me all out of the frame Sunday afternoon while watching football. Doesn’t it seem like they could give a dad with two boys a warning before showing it? I had to make like my allergies were acting up when my youngest walked into the room.
“You have to think of what’s important in life. Where you started, where you are and where you want to be. How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? And I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. And you have to be willing to work for it.”
Have a plan. Have a plan. Have a plan. And it takes work to accomplish that plan. This day and age it isn’t going to be handed to you on a silver platter. Life doesn’t work that way, so dream big and get after it. The “How do you go from where you are to where you want to be?” quote should be painted on the cafeteria wall in every school, so the kids would read it every day as far as I am concerned. They would learn a valuable life lesson and not even realize it.
And last, but definitely not least.
“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
Seven words, so simple, and yet, so hard to maintain, they don’t even need to be explained.
So thanks, Jimmy V, for the advice. I will see you again next year for my annual pep talk. And you best believe, I will make sure my two boys are watching with me.
I am proud to say my youngest son asked to watch the speech with me again Wednesday night when ESPN rebroadcast it. I think my little Jimmy V tradition has hopefully caught on. I just hope those words of wisdom are sinking in.
David Lee is the Wilson Parks and Recreation Department Director. He is also a part-time golfer, part-time writer and, along with his wife, Dana, full-time parents of two boys.