Dick Vitale, Hall of Fame commentator: "I never anticipated what he was going to do -- I knew how sick he was, I had to carry him on the stage -- I thought he was going to simply accept the award and sit down."
Tennis champion Arthur Ashe was the only African-American man to win Wimbledon and the U.S. and Australian Opens. Ashe died in February 1993 before he could receive the award named for him.
Recipients of the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award "reflect the spirit of Arthur Ashe, possessing strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost. The award is inspired by the life that Ashe lived, using his fame and stature to advocate for human rights, although at the time, those positions may have been unpopular and were often controversial. Winners of the Ashe Award strive to carry on Ashe's legacy in their own lives -- inspired by those who do so each day."
Mike Krzyzewski, head coach, Duke basketball: "Jim was always great in end-of-game situations, and he would always improvise. You never knew what to expect, and so when I heard that, I hear it from two different ways, and when I hear it from the basketball way, I smile. He's being a coach right now, and he's being himself and trying to figure out how he's going to win and, God darn it, he was able do that."
Robin Roberts, Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award recipient in 2013, Good Morning America anchor and former SportsCenter anchor: "I remember when Jim Valvano was the first recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage award, and I was standing backstage. I was backstage, the next presenter on after Jimmy V, when he accepted the honor with an inspiring speech that touched us all and still does."
Dick Vitale, Hall of Fame commentator: "Jimmy and emotion, that was his way of life. I remember a number of occasions, once he called me to his room across from the studio we were working at the next night. He was battling cancer at this time, he was watching a Frank Sinatra show with shorts on and just started punching the walls, screaming, tears streaming down his face. Imagine your worst toothache, and run it through your body, he said. He was a proud man, didn't want to take morphine. That was like admitting it was over, and he was going to fight. Fight until the end. He had to use it at the end, to kill the pain. It shook me up, this grown man, punching walls and his tears."
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves center:
"[Former Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders' fight with cancer has] had an amazing effect on me. I never lost a coach before, and to have a guy who literally gave me the life that I live now, it was an amazing experience to go through that with him. I'm very blessed that I had the little time I had with Flip.
"I've seen this speech a lot. I've been to The ESPYS twice -- no, three times. And, you know, it's just about fighting. You know, you just have to fight. And no matter what the cards are dealt to you, you never complain, never get disappointed, never hang your head. Just keep your head high and just play the cards out."
Chris Berman, ESPN sportscaster: "The advice to 'think, laugh and cry' every day applies to all of us 25 years later, as it will 25 years from now. For Jim to be that forceful and that dynamic that night while suffering from cancer more than anybody knew was nothing short of remarkable. I saw him backstage a short time afterward as he was departing in his wheelchair, and he was physically exhausted. It hit me right then and there how much it took for Jim to deliver those words and how important it was for him to deliver them."
Mike Krzyzewski, head coach, Duke basketball: "I think as a coach, you're always thinking about how to get better -- not what you've done -- and basically that's what Jim was saying: You're always 'becoming.' He created something with the V Foundation where even though he was not here physically, he was always 'becoming.' How beautiful. In some ways, I feel there was some divine intervention there. It was miraculous that he was that way during those months, and thank God he was."
Bob Lloyd, former Rutgers teammate and co-captain and former chair emeritus of the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research: "True story! He always found it difficult coaching young, who were kids his own age. He always said, 'It's like me trying to motivate you, Bob!'"
Mike Krzyzewski, head coach, Duke basketball: "We played against each other as players, and we coached up North, and then we came South -- or mid-Atlantic -- together and, you know, I'm not sure we liked each other. In fact, I'm sure we didn't because you're competitive. But once he got into announcing and once he got diagnosed with cancer, I found a relationship that I've never had with anyone else and we became -- really -- brothers."
Jim Valvano, once nicknamed "Mr. Defense," scored 1,122 points in his college basketball career at Rutgers University. He then went on to coach the freshman team at Rutgers, which eventually led to his most notable coaching feat: leading North Carolina State to the national championship in 1983.
Mark Herzlich, retired New York Giants linebacker: "I remember the first time that I heard the speech. I was going through chemotherapy, desperately trying to kill each cancer cell in my own body. I was looking for hope, I was looking for strength, I was looking for someone who had done 'it' before. As I sat there watching and listening, I was enthralled with his passion and selflessness. I became lost for a moment in the fight he showed because it reminded me of my fight, the same tenacious fight. The video came to an end, and the harsh reality that this great man with this great outlook and passion, a man who had moved millions of people to champion a cause that was tiptoed around at the time, a man who seemingly could do anything that he set his mind to, had passed away from this awful disease. The mortality of the disease became abundantly apparent, but Jimmy V also proved that the finality of the disease doesn't have to be so final. When I look at the speech now and when I look at the incredible legacy that Jimmy V has left behind and the amount of people who have benefited from his courageous and selfless efforts to bring about a drive for a cure, I really do embrace the joy I feel when I help others hear the soft whisper of hope during their own tumultuous battles with cancer."
Pam Valvano Strasser, Jim Valvano's widow and chairwoman of the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research: "I think I remember the day that [the speech] actually happened most. It brings back memories that weren't good, before the speech. He was very ill with a fever that particular day, and I had been calling Duke and getting medicine from local pharmacies. He was apprehensive about giving the speech because he was afraid of getting too emotional, saying, 'I might cry.' I said, 'Everyone would expect that,' but he wound up giving a speech of a lifetime."
Bob Lloyd, former Rutgers teammate and co-captain and board chairman emeritus of the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research: "James Thomas Anthony Valvano, He's an Italian. We were the Italian and the WASP, the odd couple. I said to Jimmy, 'On national TV! You can't say the F-word on national TV!' The Italian that he was, he says, 'What a typical WASP. It means 'Go to Naples' ... as in go to hell.'"
Bob Lloyd, former Rutgers teammate and co-captain and board chairman emeritus of the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research: "The speech, he wrote it all himself. He was an English major, a very smart guy, incredibly intelligent. He got all the quotes himself. He was very bright. People didn't really know that about him."
Shaun Livingston, retired NBA guard: "[That speech will always be] legendary, for sure. Heartfelt. Just the emotion and passion behind that speech ... that's gonna be a classic forever. It's something they should continue to show forever to honor him and the cause. And just to educate and enlighten the youth as well."
Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs pitcher:
"He was such a great advocate for cancer research. If you think about the information we had then compared to what we have now, it's amazing what that speech has meant."
There are 16 million cancer survivors in the U.S. today -- and growing.
Pam Valvano Strasser, Jim Valvano's widow and chairwoman of the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research: "This is the most memorable part for me. Jaime, my middle daughter, was diagnosed with cancer. It was amazing he said that in the speech and amazing it came true. She has been cancer-free for 12 years. I think it has to do with the foundation. She probably got the gene from her dad, but because we knew of the gene, we were able to do the right testing and treatment for her. If we didn't know about it, results might have been completely different."
Mike Krzyzewski, head coach, Duke basketball: "When I hear that, very first thing I think is recruiting. Like as a coach, there's no way we are going to win without big-time players, and basically Jim was saying, 'Hey, everybody, I just got the No. 1 recruit in the country, and we got a chance. We got a chance to do this.' I would say, 'Don't give up, don't ever give up,' even if we didn't have it, but I can believe that even more knowing we were assembling this amazing team ... Just God bless that 'recruit.'"
The Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research has awarded more than $200 million in research grants and helped leverage more than $1 billion in additional funding.
Jim Kelly, 2018 Jimmy V Award recipient, Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback:
"It's humbling to now be included on the long list of inspirational and courageous recipients of this prestigious award. I'd like to thank the V Foundation and ESPN for my consideration, as well as for all of the incredible work they do for cancer research. They truly do 'make a difference today for someone who is fighting for their tomorrow.'"
The Jimmy V Award was introduced in 2007 and given to basketball coach Kay Yow as "a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination."
Bob Lloyd, former Rutgers teammate and co-captain and board chairman emeritus of the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research: "His mind, his heart and his soul, they really do go on forever with this foundation. He was bigger than life. After the speech Johnny Carson had called him, he had been on the show a few times, and he said, 'I didn't see the speech live, but I saw the speech. I have been on TV for 40 years, and I've never lit the screen up like you did tonight.'"
Jimmy V’s ESPYs Speech, Annotated
By Ashley Melfi
Sports is sports -- until it isn't. Sometimes sports becomes a moment in time that reaches far beyond the X's and O's. 1993. The first ESPYS. Coach Jim Valvano's acceptance speech for the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award was that kind of moment. He gave the world words that have transcended sports and still reverberate. "If you laugh, you think and you cry, that's a full day." The speech is his legacy -- and ours. Those who remember it, who remember him, relive that moment, annotate his words and remember where they were and when.
Click highlighted text to view annotation
Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. That's the lowest I've ever seen Dick Vitale since the owner of the Detroit Pistons called him in and told him he should go into broadcasting.
I can't tell you what an honor it is to even be mentioned in the same breath with Arthur Ashe. This is something I certainly will treasure forever. But as it was said on the tape -- and I also don't have one of those things going with the cue cards, so I'm going to speak longer than anybody else has spoken tonight -- that's the way it goes. Time is very precious to me. I don't know how much I have left, and I have some things that I would like to say. Hopefully, at the end, I will have said something that will be important to other people, too.
But I can't help it. Now I'm fighting cancer. Everybody knows that. People ask me all the time about how you go through your life and how's your day, and nothing is changed for me. As Dick said, I'm a very emotional and passionate man. I can't help it. That's being the son of Rocco and Angelina Valvano. It comes with the territory. We hug, we kiss, we love.
When people say to me, how do you get through life or each day? It's the same thing. To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. No. 1 is laugh. You should laugh every day. No. 2 is think. You should spend some time in thought. No. 3 is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heckuva day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special.
I rode on the plane up today with Mike Krzyzewski, my good friend and wonderful coach. People don't realize he's 10 times a better person than he is a coach, and we know he's a great coach. He's meant a lot to me in these last five or six months with my battle. But when I look at Mike, I think, we competed against each other as players. I coached against him for 15 years, and I always have to think about what's important in life to me are these three things. Where you started, where you are and where you're going to be. Those are the three things that I try to do every day. When I think about getting up and giving a speech, I can't help it. I have to remember the first speech I ever gave.
I was coaching at Rutgers University. That was my first job. Oh, that's wonderful [reaction to applause], and I was the freshman coach. That's when freshmen played on freshman teams, and I was so fired up about my first job. I see Lou Holtz here. Coach Holtz, who doesn't like the very first job you had? The very first time you stood in the locker room to give a pep talk. That's a special place, the locker room, for a coach to give a talk. So my idol as a coach was Vince Lombardi, and I read this book called "Commitment to Excellence" by Vince Lombardi. And in the book, Lombardi talked about the first time he spoke before his Green Bay Packers team in the locker room, and they were perennial losers. I'm reading this, and Lombardi said he was thinking should it be a long talk or a short talk? But he wanted it to be emotional, so it would be brief.
So here's what I did. Normally you get in the locker room, I don't know, 25 minutes, a half-hour before the team takes the field. You do your little X's and O's, and then you give the great Knute Rockne talk. We all do. Speech No. 84. You pull them right out. You get ready. You get your squad ready. Well, this is the first one I ever gave, and I read this thing.
Lombardi, what he said was he didn't go in, he waited. His team wondering, where is he? Where is this great coach? He's not there. Ten minutes, he's still not there. Three minutes before they could take the field, Lombardi comes in, bangs the door open, and I think you all remember what great presence he had, great presence. He walked in, and he walked back and forth, like this, just walked, staring at the players. He said, "All eyes on me."
I'm reading this in this book. I'm getting this picture of Lombardi before his first game, and he said, "Gentlemen, we will be successful this year, if you can focus on three things and three things only. Your family, your religion and the Green Bay Packers." They knocked the walls down, and the rest was history.
I said, "That's beautiful." I'm going to do that. Your family, your religion and Rutgers basketball. That's it. I had it. Listen, I'm 21 years old. The kids I'm coaching are 19, and I'm going to be the greatest coach in the world, the next Lombardi. I'm practicing outside of the locker room, and the managers tell me you got to go in. Not yet, not yet, family, religion, Rutgers basketball. All eyes on me. I got it, I got it. Then finally he said, three minutes. I said, fine. True story. I go to knock the doors open just like Lombardi. Boom! They don't open. I almost broke my arm. Now I was down, the players were looking. Help the coach out, help him out. Now I did like Lombardi, I walked back and forth, and I was going like that with my arm getting the feeling back in it. Finally I said, "Gentlemen, all eyes on me." These kids wanted to play. They're 19. "Let's go," I said. "Gentlemen, we'll be successful this year if you can focus on three things, and three things only. Your family, your religion and the Green Bay Packers," I told them. I did that. I remember that. I remember where I came from.
It's so important to know where you are. I know where I am right now. How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. You have to be willing to work for it.
I talked about my family; my family's so important. People think I have courage. The courage in my family are my wife Pam, my three daughters, here, Nicole, Jamie, LeeAnn, my mom, who's right here too. That screen is flashing up there 30 seconds -- like I care about that screen right now, huh? I got tumors all over my body. I'm worried about some guy in the back going, "30 seconds?" You got a lot, hey, Và Fà a Napoli, buddy. You got a lot.
I just got one last thing: I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought. To get your emotions going. To be enthusiastic every day. And Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Nothing great could be accomplished without enthusiasm," to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems whatever you have. The ability to be able to work hard for your dreams to come true, to become a reality.
Now I look at where I am now, and I know what I want to do. What I would like to be able to do is spend whatever time I have left and to give, and maybe, some hope to others. Arthur Ashe Foundation is a wonderful thing, and AIDS, the amount of money pouring in for AIDS is not enough, but it is significant. But if I told you it's 10 times the amount that goes in to cancer research, I also told you that 500,000 people will die this year of cancer, and I also tell you that one in every four will be afflicted with this disease. And yet somehow, we seem to have put it in a little bit of the background. I want to bring it back on the front table.
We need your help. I need your help. We need money for research. It may not save my life. It may save my children's lives. It may save someone you love. And it's very important. And ESPN has been so kind to support me in this endeavor and allow me to announce tonight, that with ESPN's support, which means what? Their money and their dollars, and they're helping me: We are starting the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research. And its motto is, "Don't give up ... don't ever give up."
And that's what I'm going to try to do every minute that I have left. I will thank God for the day and the moment I have. If you see me, smile and maybe give me a hug. That's important to me too. But try if you can to support, whether it's AIDS or the cancer foundation, so that someone else might survive, might prosper and might actually be cured of this dreaded disease. I can't thank ESPN enough for allowing this to happen. I'm going to work as hard as I can for cancer research and hopefully, maybe, we'll have some cures and some breakthroughs. I'd like to think, I'm going to fight my brains out to be back here again next year for the Arthur Ashe recipient. I want to give it next year!
I know, I gotta go, I gotta go. And I got one last thing, and I said it before, and I'm gonna say it again: Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.
I thank you, and God bless you all.
Stacey Pressman, Justin Tinsley and Jesse Rogers contributed to the reporting of this piece.
Originally posted July 18, 2018.