Valvano Dies After Cancer Fight : College basketball: Former North Carolina State coach battled illness for last year. He was 47.
Jim Valvano, the former North Carolina state basketball coach whose life was a bittersweet mixture of triumph and controversy, passed away Wednesday morning after a year-long battle with bone cancer. He was 47.
With his family by his side, Valvano died at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC, his attorney, Woody Webb, said.
“We all lost a dear friend today,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “Jim was a dreamer, motivator and fighter. He did all those things until the last day. Our thoughts go out to his beautiful family, whom he loved most. What Jim has done over the past year in the fight against cancer is truly remarkable. I am sure that his fight will one day lead us to conquer this dreaded disease.”
Valvano’s death came 10 years after North Carolina’s unlikely NCAA state championship, an event that Valvano once called “the happiest day of my professional life.”
It was on that April night in Albuquerque, NM, that Lorenzo Charles of Wolfpack plucked teammate Dereck Whittenburg’s 9-yard desperation shot from the air and smashed it through the hoop in the closing seconds, giving North Carolina State a 54-52 win against favorite Houston.
Caught on national television for all to see, Valvano, frantically rushing onto the field, was looking for someone. . . whoever, embrace. The moment seemed to define his personality, transforming the son of a teacher and basketball coach from Queens, NY into a national celebrity in the process.
“It was real, more than anything, pure emotion, pure joy,” he said years later. “It was the fulfillment of every childhood dream. That is why we all coach.”
Valvano was diagnosed with cancer last June, shortly after complaining of pain in his groin area. The cancer, metastatic adenocarcinoma, was found in his spine and would eventually spread to his back, neck, legs and hips. Doctors told him he could live a year, maybe longer, if chemotherapy treatments were successful.
Even as his health declined, Valvano continued to work as an analyst on select ESPN and ABC basketball broadcasts. He was considered a natural for the medium, given his spontaneity, wit and vast knowledge of the game he loved. His delivery and ability to explain the inner workings of the sport was so seamless that Valvano won a Cable ACE award in his first year as a broadcaster.
Determined to highlight the need for cancer research, Valvano launched a vocal and vibrant national campaign to raise money and awareness. He founded the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research, whose motto is “Don’t give up, never give up.” An organization known as VICTORIES: Valvano’s Incredible Cancer Team of Really Important Extraordinary Stars was also formed.
On each occasion, Valvano spoke passionately about his battle with the disease and urged others to get involved.
“I look at where I am now,” said Valvano in his March 4 acceptance of the Arthur Ashe Award for Bravery on ESPN, “and I know what I want to do. have spent, and perhaps give some hope to others.
“I want to bring (cancer research) back to the forefront. We need your help. I need your help. We need money for research. It may not save my life, but it will save my children’s lives. It can save someone you love.
Three days later, Valvano was back at work as a member of ABC’s broadcast team for the Duke-North Carolina game in Chapel Hill, NC. As always, he was greeted with an ovation.
Born March 10, 1946, in New York City, Valvano was a three-sport star at Seaford High on Long Island.
He was Rutgers’ senior athlete of the year in 1967 and led the Scarlet Knights to a third-place finish in the National Invitation Tournament.
Valvano began his coaching career at Rutgers, where he was a varsity assistant and head coach of the freshman team.
From there, Valvano took a job as an assistant in Connecticut, where he spent two years before accepting the head coaching position at Johns Hopkins in 1969. During his lone season with Johns Hopkins, the Bluejays achieved their first winning record in 24 years.
Valvano then moved to Bucknell and quickly earned a reputation as a coach with a future. His methods were unconventional. For example, his campus radio show started with “Theme from the Godfather.” And during pre-match warmups, Valvano could be found in uniform, taking part in layup drills or the like.
Despite a 43-51 record over three seasons with Bucknell—the Bison achieved a winning record his final season—Valvano was hired by Iona in 1975. During his five seasons at the New Rochelle, NY school, Valvano created a regional stream. Thanks in part to center Jeff Ruland’s play, the Gaels won 51 games during Valvano’s final two seasons.
The highlights included appearances in NCAA tournaments in 1979 and 1980, as well as a regular season victory in 1980 against Louisville. That same Louisville team won the national championship two months after losing to Iona.
Valvano’s success at Iona caught the attention of Willis Casey, then North Carolina state athletic director. According to the coach’s autobiography, “Valvano,” published in 1991, Casey hired him after one interview. It started with the Wolfpack athletic director asking Valvano why he wanted the job.
“Because I want to win the national championship,” said Valvano.
“Do you think you can do that here?” said Casey.
“You’ve done it before,” Valvano said. “I would think you could do it again.”
Much to the surprise of everyone, especially Houston-led Phi Slamma Jamma led by Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon, the Wolfpack advanced to the championship game of the 1983 NCAA Tournament. They did so despite entering the tournament with 10 losses.
North Carolina State trailed 42-35 with 10 minutes to play, but tied the score and gained possession with 44 seconds to play.
Valvano wanted guard Sidney Lowe to take the last shot, but Houston forced Lowe to pass the ball. Whittenburg took the crucial shot, then watched in amazement as Charles easily grabbed the errant effort and dunked for the win.
“My favorite quote was, ‘Trees would tap dance, elephants would run the Indianapolis 500, and Orson Welles would skip breakfast, lunch, and dinner before NC State figured out a way to win the NCAA tournament,'” Valvano said. “This team taught me that one day there will be elephants in the Indianapolis 500.”
Casey was so overjoyed that he hugged Valvano and then kissed him too.
During 10 seasons under Valvano, North Carolina State was 209-114, played eight NCAA Tournaments, and won two Atlantic Coast Conference titles. Valvano was named ACC Coach of the Year in 1988 and 1989. And beginning in 1986, he assumed the role of athletic director, a position he held for three years.
After the 1987-88 season, UCLA approached Valvano as a possible replacement for Walt Hazzard. Negotiations ended, Valvano said in his book, when the state of North Carolina refused to waive a $500,000 buyout that would have allowed it to accept UCLA’s offer.
However, UCLA has steadfastly maintained that it never offered Valvano the job.
In January 1989, Valvano’s program came under scrutiny after allegations of misconduct appeared on the dust jacket of Peter Golenbock’s then-unpublished book Personal Fouls.
An NCAA investigation turned up eight charges, which were eventually narrowed down to three violations — ticket sales, basketball shoe sales, lack of institutional oversight — by the NCAA Committee on Infractions. The program was placed on two years’ probation and was ineligible for the 1990 NCAA Tournament.
At the end of February of that year, Valvano’s program was rocked by allegations of a shaving scandal. He resigned under pressure on April 7 and agreed to a buyout worth more than $600,000.
Valvano is survived by his wife, Pam, and three daughters: Nicole, Jamie, and Lee Ann.
Valvano’s College Coaching Career
Year School WL Pct. 1970 Johns Hopkins 10 9 .526 1973 Bucknell 11 14 .440 1974 Bucknell 8 16 .333 1975 Bucknell 14 12 .538 1976 Iona 10 16 .385 1977 Iona 15 10 .600 1978 Iona 17 19 10 8 .630 North Carolina St. 14 13 ,519 1982 North Carolina St. 22 10 ,688 1983 *North Carolina St. 26 10 ,722 1984 North Carolina St. 19 14 ,576 1985 North Carolina St. 23 10 . 697 1986 North Carolina St. 21 13 ,618 1987 North Carolina St. 20 15 ,571 1988 North Carolina St. 24 8 ,750 1989 North Carolina St. 22 9 ,710 1990 North Carolina St. 18 12 ,600 Total 346 212 . 620
* NCAA Champion