Bob Valvano keeping Jim's memory alive


If you sat in the Morgantown High auditorium Friday morning and closed your eyes as Bob Valvano spoke, you'd swear you were listening to his older brother Jim Valvano, the North Carolina State basketball coaching great who died of cancer, in 1993.

Bob Valvano, an ESPN commentator, sounds just like his famous sibling, who reached the pinnacle of coaching success in guiding the Wolfpack's miracle run to the 1983 NCAA Tournament title.

The Valvano brothers have the same speech pattern. They are wise-cracking New Yorkers who are fun to listen to.

"I'm glad to be here today," Bob Valvano told the eight teams playing in the West Virginia Coaches Against Cancer Tournament, at MHS. "Of course, I'm glad to be anywhere after taking that flight from Pittsburgh to Morgantown.

"That flight reminds me of two words: Buddy Holly."

The Valvano brothers share a remarkable gift for telling stories that are both funny and poignant. Once you get past the sound of their voices, you'll immediately notice that they look alike.

Their facial characteristics are identical. They have that trademark big Valvano nose and a similar haircut.

Yes, seeing Bob Valvano can't help but remind one of Jim Valvano -- and Bob Valvano wouldn't have it any other way.

"I always like it when people bring him up, because it keeps him alive for me," said Valvano, who coached college basketball for 20 years at such schools as St. Francis, N.Y., Catholic University and St. Mary's College.

Sadly, Jim Valvano died only 10 years after claiming his only NCAA title, but his spirit lives on through his brothers, Bob and Nick, and his Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research.

Speaking to high school-aged kids isn't always the easiest task. The kids who packed the MHS auditorium Friday weren't even born when Jim Valvano and N.C. State shocked the college basketball world.

Bob Valvano succeeded in bringing his brother's memory to life for these kids. He showed a tape of the dramatic final seconds of the Wolfpack's win over Houston, and Jim Valvano frantically running around the court looking for somebody to hug.

Jim Valvano loved to tell the story of that joyous postgame scene, where he went searching for Lorenzo Charles -- who made the game-winning dunk -- and wound up kissing his athletic director, Willis Casey.

"It was the joy of the victory and the agony of defeat, all in one moment," Valvano said.

The story most people don't know is the reaction of Bob Valvano, who was in the stands at The Pit, in Albuquerque, N.M., when N.C. State won.

"It was the first Final Four I had ever gone to," he said. "I don't think I've ever been more excited in a game I wasn't involved in as a player or coach. I was on an aisle seat. I raced down the aisle, jumped over the press table and knocked all of these papers off that belonged to the writers.

"I was as bad as he was, racing around trying to find him. I couldn't find him. He was that elusive target. By the time I caught up with him, he was in that mass of bodies under the basket. It was a night I'll never forget."

One of the treasured photographs in the Valvano family collection is that of Jim and his father, longtime prep coach Rocco Valvano, hugging and talking after the victory.

Rocco Valvano had assured his son years earlier that he would one day win the national championship. In fact, when Rocco Valvano heard about his son's goal of an NCAA title, he invited him to the family's house, took him up to the bedroom and showed him two suitcases in the closet.

"I'm taking these two suitcases with me when you win the NCAA title," Rocco Valvano said. "You're going to win it, and I'm going to be there."

Bob Valvano beams when he tells this story.

"I later asked Jim what dad was saying to him at that moment when the picture was taken, and he said, 'I knew your dream was going to come true; I knew you were going to do it!'" Bob Valvano said.

And he did.

Bob Valvano has written a book, "The Gifts of Jimmy V," and a majority of the proceeds go to the Jimmy V Foundation, which recently surpassed the $22 million plateau.

One of the main points of Valvano's book is that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

When he was only 25, Jim Valvano wrote his life's goals on an index card. The goals included winning the NCAA championship, making the Hall of Fame, appearing on "The Tonight Show" and earning a million dollars.

Incredibly, Valvano accomplished practically every one of those goals he scribbled on the index card, which today sits on Nick Valvano's desk, in North Carolina.

"My brother was one of the most ordinary people I knew," said Bob Valvano, who shared a bedroom with Jim during their childhood years, in Long Island. "He had a bad sinus condition and skinny legs, and he went on to make almost all of his dreams come true."

Bob Valvano is helping to keep his brother's dream of finding a cure for cancer alive through his work with the Jimmy V Foundation.

"Personally, this gives me a way to deal with Jim's passing," Valvano said. "I miss him every day. I feel like maybe in some way his passing has made the world better for somebody else out there. Somebody is going to be cured because of this."

Valvano recently received a letter from a man who saw one of his presentations. The man had been feeling fine, but he decided to visit his doctor for a checkup.

The doctor discovered that the man was in the early stages of colon cancer.

"If it's detected early enough, you can do something about it," Valvano said. "We're hopeful that Jim's speech and his passing will help somebody else."

Valvano introduced the high school kids to Jim's famous speech, which he gave at the ESPY Awards, in 1993, six weeks before he died. Bob played the tape of a frail-looking Jim delivering the speech of a lifetime: "Don't give up, don't ever give up!"

His words pack a punch to this day.

"Cancer can take away my physical abilities, but it can't touch my heart, my mind or my soul," Valvano said. "Those three things will live on forever."

Thanks to the Jimmy V Foundation, Jim Valvano's spirit will as well.