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Cancer didn"t beat Jimmy Valvano. It may have sapped him of his strength, his strut, his sight and eventually his final breath, but 10 years later Jimmy V continues to wage war on the disease.
Surely if cancer was selectively evil and had to do it over again, it wouldn"t choose to mess with James Thomas Anthony Valvano.
|Before his death 10 years ago, Jim Valvano made sure his fight against cancer wouldn"t die.|
North Carolina State, Valvano"s former school, makes its first appearance in the eighth annual Jimmy V Men"s Basketball Classic on Tuesday when the Wolfpack plays Gonzaga at The Meadowlands. Also, Cincinnati plays Oregon.
The Jimmy V Classic is just one way Valvano"s V Foundation is going after the disease that had the nerve to go after him. He created the foundation weeks before dying, so you could look at it this way: From the grave, Jimmy Valvano has raised more than $24 million to fund cancer research.
You know what they say about payback, right? It"s a b----.
"That"s him," says Dereck Whittenburg, one of the stars of Valvano"s 1983 national championship team at N.C. State. "When he left, he intended to make a difference."
He already has.
Most adults know someone who has cancer, and if you don"t, you will soon enough. According to V Foundation research, roughly half the men and one-third the women in the United States will get cancer, and almost one in five will die from it. In the time it takes you to read this paragraph, five more people have been diagnosed with a form of the disease that killed Jimmy Valvano.
From his place in eternity Valvano is trying to kill cancer, and thanks to groups like the V Foundation and many others, headway is being made. Doctors estimate 8.9 million people are alive today solely because of advances in cancer research. Of the people who have been diagnosed with cancer in the last 30 years, the five-year survival rate has rise from 38 percent to 59 percent.
Valvano wasn"t among them. He was 47 when he died on April 28, 1993. Most of the money raised by his foundation, which has funded more than 160 private grants for scientists whose only goal is victory over cancer, has come after his death.
"It"s an unbelievable story," says former Wolfpack assistant coach Tom Abatemarco. "It all started with Jimmy."
Valvano"s the one who limped onto the stage at the 1993 Espy Awards, seven weeks before he would die, and announced the creation of the V Foundation. Before limping off, Valvano urged his national television audience, "Don"t give up ... don"t ever give up."
Valvano had delivered a similar message two weeks earlier in his final appearance as a television analyst. The occasion was the 10th anniversary of N.C. State"s 1983 title, and all the Wolfpack heroes were back at Reynolds Coliseum to be honored at halftime of the N.C. State-Duke game. Assistant athletics director Frank Weedon was in the dressing room with the gaunt ex-coach before the game, when Valvano said he couldn"t do it. Couldn"t do the television. Couldn"t walk onto the court at halftime. Couldn"t get out of his chair.
"We talked him into it, and when he got on that court, it was like turning the lights on," Weedon says. "He spoke from his heart, and when he was done there wasn"t a dry eye in the place. Jim was quite the wordsmith."
He was a lot of things. He did television appearances. He made motivational speeches. And he coached with passion and success. In 19 seasons as a head coach Valvano was 346-212 at Johns Hopkins, Bucknell, Iona and N.C. State, where he was twice voted ACC Coach of the Year.
It was Valvano who had the vision to move the Wolfpack out of antiquated Reynolds Coliseum and into a new facility. What he started in 1983 finally came to be in 1999, when N.C. State"s $158 million building opened.
"Everyone who has followed college basketball can remember Coach Valvano and all that he represented," says N.C. State coach Herb Sendek, who has a picture of Valvano in his office.
To some, Valvano didn"t represent everything good about college basketball. He resigned under pressure in 1990 amid an NCAA investigation, and if he wasn"t a saint, he wasn"t a go-for-broke sinner, either. The worst thing NCAA investigators found was evidence that some N.C. State players had made spending money by selling game tickets and sneakers. If that"s what some people choose to remember about Valvano, so be it. Abatemarco has other memories.
"He had the most unbelievable personality," says Abatemarco, an analyst for the Sacramento Kings. "If you were around him15 minutes, you felt like you knew him forever. And he always talked about never giving up, never quitting. I heard that for years."
And then he saw it. The last time Abatemarco saw Valvano alive was in a hospital room in Durham. Tumors bulged in Valvano"s eyes, and fluid had collected in his legs. He would die in two days, but he wouldn"t admit defeat.
"All he talked about was how he had this plan to beat it," Abatemarco says. "He didn"t want to take the painkiller, the morphine, because it would screw up the chemo -- which would kill the cancer. He had this plan in his mind, on his deathbed. He had some people convinced he was going to make it."
Valvano could do that. He even convinced himself, as a kid in New York, he would play college basketball, then coach college basketball, and before he was done he would win a game at Madison Square Garden and cut down the nets after a national title game. At age 17, he wrote all that down on a white index card. At age 36, he pulled out the card and crossed off the final line.
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Eleven years later he was dying. Before he was gone, he set in motion the foundation that, nearly a decade later, supports the fight against cancer from numerous angles. A celebrity golf tournament in North Carolina has raised more than $8 million. The V Foundation Wine Celebration in Napa Valley has raised more than $6 million. There is a Jimmy V Women"s Basketball Classic to match the one on the men"s side. Tickets to N.C. State basketball games even invite fans to make a $19.83 donation to the V Foundation.
That"s $19.83, as in the year Valvano became famous for fighting past Houston in Albuquerque, N.M. Who knew his biggest fight was still to come? Or that he"d still be fighting it almost 10 years after his death?
Gregg Doyel covers college basketball for The Charlotte Observer and can be reached at gdoyel