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Excerpt: 'The Gifts of Jimmy V' Chapter One

Excerpt: 'The Gifts of Jimmy V' Chapter Two

The V Foundation for Cancer Research

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
It Started With Radio
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 preface.)

Why this book?

Several reasons, but the most compelling for me, not necessarily in order of importance, are: an exchange of letters with an ESPN Radio listener, a tale involving Babe Ruth, a pregame talk by former Rutgers and Duke coach Bill Foster, and a story from the 1981 North Carolina State season.

First, the letters.

Jim Valvano
Jim Valvano cuts down the net after his Wolfpack beat Virginia, 81-78, to win the 1983 ACC championship.
As part of my nightly program on ESPN Radio, I told listeners that I'd love to hear any personal stories they had about my brother that they would be interested in sharing for this book. Jim did a lot of public speaking, was a high-profile coach and broadcaster for nearly 20 years, and interacted with many, many people in the course of his career. Still others who never met him were moved by speeches they saw on TV or by articles they read that quoted him. I wanted to share some of those stories in this book, and asked people to send them to me. The following was one of the responses:

I heard about this on ESPN Radio last night. My take on Valvano is probably not something you'll want to see in the book.

From the start of the "sanctification" of Valvano (the "V Foundation"), I've been befuddled by all the attention this man has received. He ran one of the dirtiest programs in college basketball . . . in fact, Tarkanian is a choirboy by comparison. Why do today's society and the media try to raise up such poor examples for people to look up to?

My dad always told me that there are only two things in life that can't be taken from you . . . your honesty and integrity. Only you can give those away. I don't know when Valvano gave his away, but I'd bet he wouldn't recognize either, it was so long ago. Was his death tragic? For his family and friends, no doubt. For the rest of us, no. There are many people that lead honorable lives who pass from view and memory with little or no fanfare that would make better examples for everyone, Valvano included.

I know this book is going to be used to help charitable foundations of one sort or another, so maybe some good will come from Valvano's life and passing. I hope it's successful.

Gary Riggle

The following was my response:

Mr. Riggle:

I appreciate the kind words about your wishes for the book, and very much appreciate your candor about my brother and his reputation. Your summation is in fact one of the main reasons I want to write the book.

I agree that he has been "sanctified" and it is for the wrong reasons. He got sick and died very young, and handled it with great dignity and courage. I am proud of that. But he really was no different in his illness than he was in health. It was simply the perception, publicly, that changed, and your comments are a reflection of that.

Let me ask you a question. You say Jim ran one of the dirtiest programs in America. Did you know that after three investigations, the only thing he was ever accused of was that his players sold complimentary athletic shoes and tickets? Period. Did you know that? Did you know that the guy who ran the NCAA investigation, Dave Dideon, a hardened veteran of dealing with slick, underhanded coaches, said that he never investigated a more misunderstood coach than Jim, and that following the investigation, he wrote a letter to Jim saying that if he had a son, he would be proud to have him play for Jim? Probably not, and my guess is that if you did, you would rather not have it cloud your preconceived judgment that Jim was a bad guy.

He made mistakes. He tried to do too many things at once. He assumed details were being tended to that weren't, that he should have seen to. But dirty program? Astoundingly inaccurate, but perpetuated, as is the misconception that he became a "good guy" when he got sick. He was always a "good guy," an inspiring guy, and he made his share of mistakes. Both have been blown out of proportion, and it makes Jim a cartoon character.

Please don't take my remarks personally . . . I am probably tilting at windmills to think I will change anyone's mind, but it is a noble fight. To fight it, I can't, and won't, make Jim out to be a saint, but the criticisms are as inaccurate as the accolades are simplistic.

It is worth trying.

Bob Valvano

Now, about the Babe.

My friend Andy Pollin, who among other things is Tony Kornheiser's sidekick on his ESPN Radio show, once visited a class I was teaching at St. Mary's College. The course was "The Sociology of Sport," and the topic was the changing role of the sports media. Pollin shared this story:

A group of sportswriters was traveling by train with the New York Yankees, and were playing cards in the parlor car late into the evening. Suddenly down the aisle came a woman running, her clothes in obvious disarray as she hastily made her way through the car. A few moments later, down the aisle on the run comes the Bambino himself, in pursuit that would have made Lawrence Taylor proud. The writers don't even look up. One finally says, "It would make a great story. . . ."

And obviously, it is a story that, in that era, would not be repeated, at least in the media.

So much has changed since then. Today it seems that you cannot be considered a serious writer unless you unearth some embarrassing personal transgressions on the part of your subject. Regardless of the nature, and in some cases even the truthfulness, of the allegations, as long as they portray the subject unflatteringly it lends a certain "seriousness" to the writing.

As I indicated earlier, I want this to be a serious look at Jim and how he went from being a skinny kid with a bad sinus condition to become a national figure who inspired and touched many lives. Some not so flattering things are in this book. Jim made some mistakes, as we all do, and some of those mistakes are included here. I want to try to help you get to know Jim as I did, and it's difficult if not impossible to relate to a character who's portrayed only in a favorable light. I'll try to paint the picture "warts and all," as Oliver Cromwell is said to have instructed his portrait painter.

I'll take care in doing this, because a writer can skew any story to imply something that's inaccurate or magnify a shortcoming inappropriately. Case in point, regarding Bill Foster. One of the finest coaches and gentlemen the college game has ever known, he was way ahead of his time in terms of preparation, organization, and efficiency. So if I shared just this one story with you -- a true story -- I would be painting the most inaccurate of pictures.

When Jim was playing for Coach Foster at Rutgers, they had just gone through one of their typical detailed pregame preparations, the crux of which was the zone defense that Rutgers had prepared just for that game. They had practiced it, drilled it, and spent the majority of the pregame talk discussing it. As Jim was headed out to the court for the opening tip, Coach Foster beckoned him. Jim quickly returned to the sideline.

"Jim," Coach said, "who's your man?"

Jimmy looked puzzled, then responded, "Coach, we're opening zone, remember?"

"Oh, that's right," Coach Foster responded.

Rutgers, well prepared and well coached, used the zone effectively to win that game. However, if all I told you was that pregame story (with slanted editing at that) I could easily create in your mind the impression of a confused or unprepared, rather than a momentarily distracted, Coach Bill Foster. This, as I said earlier, is not only inaccurate, but is exactly the opposite of the truth.

That's the fine line I have to try to walk in this book. I'll be using true stories that paint an accurate picture of who Jim really was, but I make no apology for leaving out stories that are open to misinterpretation or serve no purpose in defining Jim or describing how he touched so many lives.

Now the North Carolina State story.

In the 1980-1981 season, N.C. State was playing the University of Virginia, led by All-American, 7'4" center Ralph Sampson. Jim, the head coach at N.C. State, devised a defensive game plan that had his team playing a tight 2-3 zone. One of the special twists devised just for Sampson was that the back defensive man on his side, in this case Scott Parzych, was instructed not to go out into the corner in the zone defense as he normally would, but to stay packed in tight, helping double cover Sampson. This was emphasized throughout the preparation: "Don't go to the corner. Whatever you do, don't go to the corner!"

The game was tight throughout: intense, close, and hard fought. Inevitably, as the game wore on, Parzych started going out to the corner defensively. Every chance he got, Jim would yell at Parzych as he ran by the bench, "Scott, stay in . . . stay in!" But Parzych kept drifting out to the corner.

Finally, there was a momentary stop in play to inbound the ball about 15 feet from the Wolfpack bench. The assistants saw an exasperated Jim Valvano leap up and race over to Parzych to get in his face. Play resumed and Jim returned calmly to the bench, where an assistant, who couldn't help noticing the transformation, asked him what had happened.

"I asked him why he kept going to the corner," Jim said, "and Scott said to me, 'Coach, I gotta go to the corner.'"

Puzzled, the assistant said, "So what did you tell him?"

"I said, 'So go,'" Jim replied.

Such is the case here.

Jim's successful playing career, and to a greater degree his coaching career in the spotlight of the Atlantic Coast Conference, will be of interest to many. His controversial dismissal at the end of his N.C. State tenure is fraught with interesting stories and personalities. His broadcast career shot across the media sky like a meteor, bright but all too brief. And his emotional battle with cancer, and his inspiring message when he was literally at death's door, touched millions of people across the nation.

But for me there is a more compelling reason to write this book. I just gotta go to the corner and tilt at peoples' minds to correct some of the many misconceptions, good and bad, concerning my brother, Jim Valvano.

And I can hear Jim saying, "So go."

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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