Past Imperfect is a series focusing on the history of the game. Every two weeks, RTC contributor Joshua Lars Weill (@AgonicaBoss|Email) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the ups and downs of famed coach Jim Valvano.
Few coaches in college basketball history have attained the sport’s highest levels of achievement and personal recognition. To do that, a coach must not only be dominant on the court, likely a national champion, but must also show both a sustaining level of that dominance and a personal magnetism that transcends on-court excellence. For those coaches who reach such lofty heights, there’s not much that a man can’t see within his grasp. Fortune and fame, even celebrity if so desired. A career choice originally based on a simple and single-minded goal – to be a major college head coach – can one day lead to possibilities never previously imagined: corporate pitchman, TV star, a brand unto oneself.
For James Thomas Anthony Valvano, the fame and attention he garnered for his team’s improbable victory in the 1983 NCAA title game was an elixir too potent to be sipped and appreciated. To the contrary, Valvano drank fully and became addicted: to the lifestyle, to the accolades, to the fame, to the next opportunity. For ‘Jimmy V,’ as he was known to most, there was, after years of toil in a cut-throat business, all of a sudden everything and anything possible. And Valvano, a boundless personality, a real talker, chomped at the bit to have it all.
The phrase “larger than life” gets used a lot, far too often on folks who simply aren’t. It’s as cliché as cliché comes, an almost meaningless term due to its over- and wrong-use. And yet, when applied correctly, it can be apt. Valvano certainly was someone it applied to. Despite losing his battle with cancer in 1993, Valvano is still very much alive. He lives on through the charitable foundation that bears his nickname, as well as the college basketball events that raise money for them. He lives on too in his much-revered and much-replayed speech at the 1993 ESPYs. You probably saw it recently, and you’ll see it again.