"Don't give up, don't ever give up."
Twenty years ago, Jim Valvano took the stage during the first ESPY Awards at Madison Square Garden and delivered one of the most iconic speeches in sports history. The former N.C. State coach who shocked the hoops community when his 1983 team upset Houston's Phi Slama Jama to win the national championship, inspired a much larger community during his battle with cancer.
On March 4, 1993, Valvano was honored with the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the ESPY Awards. A New York City native who had risen through the coaching ranks and later distinguished himself as a broadcaster, Valvano had been diagnosed with bone cancer less than a year earlier.
"I remember how sick Jimmy was that evening," recalled college basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale, a close friend of Valvano and stalwart supporter of the V Foundation for Cancer Research, in a column at ESPN.com. "I honestly did not know how he was going to make it up to the stage, and I remember standing next to him, in total awe as he spoke. We helped him off of the stage that evening and he was absolutely amazing in his words as he talked about beating cancer."
Despite his failing health, Valvano spoke for more than 10 minutes about his life and his illness with a positivity and perspective that continues to inspire 20 years later.
"I just got one last thing, I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have," Valvano said. "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."
Just a few weeks later, Valvano passed away at age 47.
In the two decades since this speech, the V Foundation has raised more than $120 million for cancer research.