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Excerpt: 'The Gifts of Jimmy V' Preface

Excerpt: 'The Gifts of Jimmy V' Chapter Two

The V Foundation for Cancer Research

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Chapter One: The Gift
By Bob Valvano
from "The Gifts of Jimmy V"

(Editor's note: is running three excerpts from ESPN Radio host Bob Valvano's The Gifts of Jimmy V published by Triumph Books. Here is the first chapter.)

Let me tell you about Jim Valvano. I can do so from a unique perspective, because I can say with absolute certainty that I am the only little brother he ever had. Thank you. Hold the applause until all the names have been read.

Jim Valvano
Jim Valvano and North Carolina State pulled off the upset over Houston in the 1983 championship game.
Why that should make one a celebrity of sorts, I don't know, but it does. ("Hey honey, you'll never guess who I met today. Connie Chung's aunt's cousin!") We all do it, and I don't mind it, because whenever someone makes a fuss about "Jim Valvano's brother" it keeps Jim alive for me in a small way. More than that, it reminds me that he touched so many lives while he was on this earth, and continues to touch them today.

People constantly tell me that Jim Valvano moved them. They usually cite one of three things: (1) the 1983 National Championship game against Houston, where North Carolina State pulled what many consider one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history; (2) one of the hundreds of motivational speeches he gave to businesses and organizations around the country; and (3) his unforgettable ESPY speech two months before his death, with its stirring exhortation, "Don't give up. Don't ever give up!" His ability to motivate, inspire, excite, and move people was simply extraordinary. It's difficult to explain, although that's what I want to attempt to do in this book. And, as Jim would be the first to tell you, it really is a gift.

That's how we arrived at the title of this book, which, however, in itself is a bit misleading. The title should be The Gift My Father Gave Me, and the author should be Jim himself. He always said that our father, Rocco Valvano, gave him the greatest gift any one person can give to another -- the gift of believing in yourself because the other person believes in you. Jim always claimed that whatever success he had, and for that matter whatever success anyone enjoys, can at some point be traced to a person who simply said, "I believe in you. I believe you can do this."

Based on the reactions of people to this message, I would say most agree. I know I agree, and believe whatever I have been able to achieve is in large measure because my father -- and my whole family -- believed in me and supported me. But I had a secret weapon. I had Jim, who took the gift my father gave him and not only passed it on but multiplied it, supercharged it, and made its positive message a catalyst that propelled countless people to success in different fields of endeavor.

You'll meet a good number of those people in this book. In fact, that is one reason for its existence: to celebrate the achievements of the many people for whom Jim played an inspirational role. In so doing, my hope is that you may be inspired too.

I coached basketball for 20 years and know what it is to be able to move and motivate those around you. Many people are in positions where they are responsible for being a catalyst every day, and it is challenging, fulfilling work. It's also not always easy. As Jim used to ask all the time, "Who motivates the motivators?" Perhaps this book will help in that regard, by reminding you that you can --we all can -- make differences in our communities in ways we may not even realize.

One of Jim's favorite quotations was "Every day ordinary people do extraordinary things." I know he believed it, and lived it, and loved that sentiment for many reasons. Jim believed in taking what you do seriously, but not taking yourself too seriously. Isn't that what that quotation is all about? We're all just ordinary people, and there's no reason to get too hung up on ourselves, but we can all do great things. "Dream, work, believe" -- that was Jim's mantra. The excitement of knowing you may have greatness within, and the knowledge that someone believes that you do: that was the essence of Jim's message.

Strangely though, while we all say we understand why it is so important, and we all think it is something we should do for the people in our lives, many of us don't inspire others as often as we would like. Why is that? Why don't we do it better? That is another reason for this book. We can examine the gift Jim Valvano gave me and so many others, and figure out how we can keep it in our lives and pass it on.

It's a magical gift. You can give it all away to someone else, and still have all of it left for yourself! How many things in life can you do that with? Isn't that amazing? You certainly can't do that with material things. But that's the best part about this gift: you can give it away and keep it at the same time, and it enriches both you and the person receiving it.

What's the catch? Well, like many things "magical," there's more to it than might appear at first glance. This gift is not always easy to get, to find, or to maintain, no matter how much we might wish it were. Which leads us back to the first sentences of this chapter. I must tell you about Jim Valvano, the complex, emotional, street smart, naļve, caring, gruff, loving, competitive, compassionate, multidimensional, misunderstood man in order for anything about his "gift" to make sense. That won't always be easy. Jim had more colors than a rainbow, and could change his mind like Sinatra changed his clothes. Which is to say, often.

'Dream, work, believe' -- that was Jim's mantra. The excitement of knowing you may have greatness within, and the knowledge that someone believes that you do: that was the essence of Jim's message.
Bob Valvano
While changing his mind could sometimes lead to accusations of Jim being calculating, disingenuous, insincere, and shifty, many times it was nothing more than him simply saying, "Hey, I changed my mind." The frequency and alacrity with which people reacted to this leads me to think that nobody must change their minds anymore. And that's sad. If you think you have all the answers, you stop trying to learn, and if you do that, you stop trying to grow, and then, quite simply, you die.

That's a huge part of Jim's message, and one he lived literally until he himself died. Sure there was a great deal of courage in what Jim did in the last months of his life, but at the core was his faith in the knowledge that even at that point he was asked to make, and did make, a choice. He chose to continue to learn, and change, and grow, and live, living the gift his father gave him, believing that even in his last days he could do great and worthwhile things.

And he did. Oh, did he ever. I contend he did more in his last 11 months than many of us do in our entire lives. Somewhere in those painful, frightening, final months, while the cancer was eating away his body, there was a little voice, the voice that contained the gift from my father, which was still telling Jim that there were important things to be done, and that someone believed he was able to do them.

Jim Valvano was a man of contradictions. He often appeared cocky, but was frequently insecure. He could be flamboyant one moment and remarkably reserved the next. He loved his family, yet spent a great deal of time away from home; believed in academics, yet recruited subpar students; wanted a shot clock, yet played a game where neither team scored 40 points. Critics will say, "See, he stood for nothing!"

That is my last reason for writing this book. We all deserve criticism, and Jim is no exception. But the seeming contradictions, the changes of mind, the inconsistencies, these are what make any of us -- all of us -- human. But what lies underneath is who we really are, and Jim's beliefs, those instilled by the gift our father gave us and all that it encompassed, were rock solid all his life. They were why he achieved what he achieved, why he made such an impression on the lives he touched. They were so powerful that the destructive forces of cancer were no match for them. It is why one ordinary man achieved so many extraordinary things.

As Jim said, "Cancer can take away all my physical abilities . . . but it cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, it cannot touch my soul . . . and those things are going to live on forever."

And they do. So let's begin . . . at the end.

Copyright ©2001 by Bob Valvano. Excerpted from "The Gifts of Jimmy V" by permission of Triumph Books. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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