Jim Valvano’s Speech

Brennen Oxford

Keywords: Passion, Emotion, Credibility, Sports, Success

From player to coach to broadcaster, Jim Valvano inspired thousands of people whether they were athletes or not. Valvano was a college point guard on the basketball team at Rutgers and was named student athlete of the year as a senior. He later went on to coach the North Carolina State Basketball team and led them to the ACC and NCAA championship in 1983. He led the Wolfpack to another ACC championship in 1987 and brought home ACC Coach of the Year in 1989. After his coaching career, Valvano became a nationally renowned basketball broadcaster and along with Dick Vitale coached an abundance of the most important games over the 1990s. Valvano was then diagnosed with cancer at the age of 46. He gave a speech at the ESPYs when he received the inaugural Archer Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. His speech is one of the most influential ever given at the ESPYs. Valvano connects and moves the crowd with his credibility and passion.

Valvano was a highly successful and highly renowned coach of the NC State Wolfpack for years. When it came to giving this speech, he was the perfect man for it because of his upstanding character, experience in the sports world, and his inspirational stories of cancer. He captured the attention of the room and was able to hold them through an intense and empathetic speech. “Now I’m fighting cancer, everybody knows that. People ask me all the time about how you go through your life and how’s your day, and nothing is changed for me.” I find this to be a very powerful statement because he accepts the fact that he has cancer, and he chooses not to let it affect him. Valvano chooses to live every day to its fullest and keep a good mindset while making the most of his time he has left. As a proven winner his entire life, he states, “I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. You have to be willing to work for it.” This is a very good example of how to go about things not only in sports but in all aspects of life.

As a terminal cancer patient, and an elder to many of the people at the ESPYs, Valvano displays a lot of passion and feeling. He appeals to the emotions of the audience perfectly throughout his speech. When talking about how he lives his life, he says, “you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.” I believe this is an extremely important line because it is a great way to live your life. The importance of this is unparalleled because if you can have your emotions move you to tears every day of your life you really are experiencing life to its fullest. Valvano also states that, “people think I have courage. The courage in my family are my wife Pam, my three daughters, here, Nicole, Jamie, LeeAnn, my mom, who’s right here too.” In the most important speech of his life, he takes the time to talk about the love he has for his family and what he finds valuable. Lastly, he leaves everyone with another great piece of knowledge, “I just got one last thing; I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have.” This I find to be a very powerful way to end his speech because it leaves each person in the audience with something to think about going forward. A very reputable man who is on his death bed is giving them all advice on how to use the time they have left with the emotions they all have.

Valvano’s credibility was not completely intact. While he was at NC State, he ignored NCAA academic violations and swept them under the rug as the coach, leading to his eventual stepping down from the job in 1989. This act tarnished a little bit of his credibility and integrity for the time being. But by the time he made this speech that was long in the past and his reputation as a fighter through cancer and a legendary coach prevailed.

Valvano gave his inspiring ESPYs speech almost thirty years ago and there is still an abundance of lessons from it today. Valvano died at the age of 47. Not only was this a great speech, but the Jimmy V Fund has become an extremely successful charity for cancer research. In this speech, Valvano shared lessons through stories of his life and other notable sports figures around him. This speech even today remains one of the most influential ever given at the ESPYs, a reminder of an award that is the highest honors one can receive as a member of the sports world.

Works Cited

“A New Translation of Aristotle’s Rhetoric; with an Introduction and Appendix … by John Gillies.” Google Books,

Hite, Cameron. “Diving Further into Bitzer’s Rhetorical Situation.” In Rhetoric in Everyday Life, Library Partners Press, 2021.

“How Jimmy V’s Famous 1993 Speech Influenced the Sports World.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures https://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/24087641/jimmy-v-espys-speech-annotated

Teel, David. “Shamed Valvano to Step Down.” Daily Press, Aug 26, 1989. Accessed August 6, 2021. https://www.dailypress.com/news/dp-xpm-19890826-1989-08-26-8908250402-story.html

Valvano, Jim. “Jim’s 1993 Espy Speech – Youtube.” Jim’s 1993 ESPY Speech, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuoVM9nm42E.


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Feeling Rhetoric Copyright © 2022 by Brennen Oxford is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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