“Don’t Give Up… Don’t Ever Give Up” – A Tribute to Jim Valvano

The following is a 2-3 minute speech I wrote and gave for a public speaking class in college during this season’s Jimmy V week.

The thought of death frequently raises feelings of fear and sadness in many people, but not this man. Many people terminally ill shrink into obscurity and seek pity from others, but not this man. Not many people are brave – heroic in the face of death, except this man. His name? Jim Valvano.

This week of college basketball has been dedicated to the memory of Jim Valvano, all televised games honor his contributions on and off the court. He was a profound motivator and a superb collegiate basketball coach. While the head coach at North Carolina State, he won ACC coach of the year twice, won two ACC conference titles and in 1983, won the NCAA Championship in memorable fashion. Shortly after retiring from coaching, Jim was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1992, the disease spread throughout his body quickly – his days were numbered.

Jim was awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the inaugural ESPY sports awards in 1993. His acceptance speech was one for the ages. Instead of focusing on himself in his time of need, Mr. Valvano focused on cancer victims that would come after him. He established the JimmyV Foundation, a fundraising organization for cancer research with the motto “Don’t Give Up… Don’t Ever Give Up”. He realized his life would not be saved, but used what time he had left to save the lives of others. Throughout his speech, Jimmy harped on the importance of appreciating life, to work towards goals, and to persevere towards completing these goals and dreams. At the age of seventeen, a young Valvano inscribed on an index card that he wanted to play high school basketball, college basketball, become an assistant coach, a head coach, win a game in Madison Square Garden, and win the NCAA Championship. By age thirty-six, he accomplished all of his goals.

Jimmy declared an unrealistic goal of fighting through his cancer to be able to give out the Arthur Ashe award at the following year’s ESPYs. His boldness, confidence, and bravado lit up Radio City Music Hall and its audience of celebrities. A stranger watching his speech that had no idea who Jim Valvano was, would never have guessed he had terminal cancer. His speech sounded like that of a pre-game speech in a locker room, except there were no players, the world was his audience, his team to motivate.

Jimmy died of his disease less than two months after his appearance at the ESPYs. A man that had to be helped to the podium, a man that had a body filled with tumors, gave a fiery speech for the betterment of his peers. A speech that motivated many, uplifted many, made many laugh and made many cry. Jimmy was able to find the utmost hope in the grimmest of situations. In the famous words of James Thomas Anthony Valvano, “Don’t Give Up… Don’t Ever Give Up”.


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