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Memories of vintage Jimmy V at first ESPYs


July 10, 2002
I can't believe that the ESPY Awards show has been around for an entire decade. Where has all the time gone? The ads on ESPN leading up to the 10th annual ESPY show, featuring ESPY host Samuel L. Jackson -- one of my favorite guys on the screen, with his enthusiasm and energy -- have brought back many memories of this great event.

Jim Valvano
Coach Jim Valvano celebrates after North Carolina State defeated Houston 54-52 in the 1983 NCAA championship game.
For me, the ultimate memory goes back to the very first ESPYs in 1993 and the announcement of the Arthur Ashe award. It seems like only yesterday. I remember sitting in the green room, waiting for my chance to introduce former college coach and ESPN analyst Jim Valvano as the recipient of the first Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

I remember being so nervous and asking for advice. Standing right there was one of the great actors of our time, an All-Rolls Roycer: Dustin Hoffman. His job was to explain what the Ashe Award is all about. Arthur Ashe was a champion in so many ways -- a winner both on the court and in life.

Wow, I was going up (after being introduced by Hoffman) to talk about Jimmy V. I still get goose bumps when I think of that moment. I reflect on how Jimmy struggled so hard in his fight against cancer -- and how he struggled to make the journey from Raleigh, N.C., just to be present at the first ESPYs in New York City.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and his wife Mickie were on a flight with Jimmy, who was ill on the plane. Jimmy had to be in a wheelchair at the hotel in New York. I have so much respect for Coach K both on the court and as a humanitarian. He and his wife helped Jimmy so much on that trip to the ESPYs.

I remember the night before, talking to Jimmy's lovely wife Pam. She told me Jimmy was down after learning at his regular checkup that the cancer had spread throughout his body. I remember speaking to Jimmy, and we were both in tears. He shared with me his feelings about his children, Nicole, Leann and Jamie -- how much he loved them and how he would miss so much of their lives. Jimmy said he wasn't thinking about going to the ESPYs, but only about his family.

I told Jimmy he had to come to the event. I was so glad that Pam, Coach K and his wife were able to get him to New York.

As I reflect on those moments, the memories come flooding back. I flash back to Jimmy standing up there after struggling to get on the stage. I figured he would simply say thank you. He could barely make it to the podium, yet he electrified the audience with a brilliant speech. The crowd in the house and the TV audience heard something they will never forget -- Jimmy V was at his best.

Jimmy V could barely make it to the podium, yet he electrified the audience with a brilliant speech.
He rocked the crowd. I was stunned watching him, with the crowd in the palm of his hand as he poured his heart out about battling cancer.

There are memories galore when I think about the ESPY awards ... but that one will always stand out for me.

That marked the start of the V Foundation for Cancer Research, and I am so proud of what has come from that night. More than $23 million has been raised to battle that dreaded disease. We need more until we get that magical call, saying that a cure has been found. Everyone reading this knows someone who has battled cancer. If you have ever been touched by Jimmy V and one of his speeches or his time on the sidelines, pick up the phone and call 1-800-4-JIMMYV. Make a donation, whether it's $5, $10, $100, $1000, whatever -- anything can help in the battle against cancer.

The ESPYs will always be special for me. I hope you enjoy it Wednesday night.

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