On March 4, 1993, Jim Valvano was awarded the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the first annual ESPY Awards. Following is his acceptance speech. You can read the full transcript below:
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.
The 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. Number one is
laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend
some time in thought. Number three 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 heck of a
day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something
I rode on the plane up today with Mike Krzyzewski, my good friend and
wonderful coach. People don’t realize he’s ten 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 fifteen 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 fist 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, twenty-five minutes, a half hour before the team
takes the field, you do your little x and o’s, and then you give the
great Knute Rockne talk. We all do. Speech number eight-four. 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 twenty-one years old. The kids I’m coaching are
nineteen, 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
nineteen. “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 thirty 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 thirty seconds? You got a lot, hey va fa
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 as 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 is significant. But if I told you it’s ten times the
amount that goes in for cancer research. I also told you that five
hundred thousand people will die this year of cancer. 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 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.” 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 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 want to 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
I thank you and God bless you all.