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Rutgers Basketball: The ESPY's celebrate the Legacy of Jim Valvano

Before there was Eddie Jordan...there was Jim Valvano.

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Tonight is the annual ESPY's, a sports award show that ESPN created in the early nineties and has become bigger each year.  The greatest impact the ESPY's have made through the years is with the annual Arthur Ashe Courage Award, given to someone who embodies the spirit of the late tennis legend.  Having strength when facing adversity, displaying courage and selflessness to stand up for what is right are qualities that each winner has demonstrated, as the award's mission statement is for someone "whose contributions transcends sports".  Past winners include Muhammed Ali, Billy Jean King, Dean Smith and Pat Tillman.  In 1993, the inaugural winner of this award was one of Rutgers own, Jim Valvano.

Valvano's speech has become the iconic moment of the ESPY's and they honor him by replaying it each year during the ceremony.  The V Foundation, which Valvano established along with ESPN and announced during his speech, has raised over 130 million dollars for cancer research in the past two decades.  His impact over the years since his death, two months after his acceptance speech, have been tremendous through his foundation's work in raising this money and awareness.  So much that ESPN created the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, one that another of our own, Eric LeGrand, won in 2012 at the ESPY's.

As a kid who loved basketball and Rutgers, Jim Valvano was someone I revered.  His autobiography, "Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead", was a book that impacted me.  His passion, humor, love of basketball and for Rutgers was on full display.  Although his coaching career ended in controversy, it was never proven he actually did anything wrong.  Valvano decided to try announcing and alongside former Rutgers assistant Dick Vitale, he excelled as he did with most things in his life.  His greatest accomplishment was leading the cinderella North Carolina State Wolfpack to the 1983 college basketball national championship.  His wild ramble looking for someone to hug after the win is another iconic moment for Valvano that is replayed during march madness every year.

With all of Valvano's accomplishments, his initial notoriety came as a star point guard at Rutgers between 1964-1967.  He scored over 1,000 points in his career in only three seasons, as freshman were not allowed to play back then.  He is 28th all-time on the Rutgers scoring list with 1,122 points.  In Rutgers history, Valvano is 17th all-time in career scoring average with 15.2 points a game and 15th all-time in field goal % at .507.  He teamed in the back court during his career with Rutgers first All-American, Bob Lloyd, who has been the chairman of the board for the V Foundation since 1994.  Their senior year they finished 3rd in the NIT, at the time more prestigious than the NCAA tournament and best finish in Rutgers history.  Valvano was named the Senior Athlete of the Year at Rutgers in 1967.  Jimmy V was inducted in the Rutgers Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993 and Hall of Distinguished Alumni of Rutgers in 1999.

There have been many recent accomplishments of Rutgers alumni winning on the world stage in 2015. Super Bowl champions Devin McCourty, Tim Wright, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon. Carli Lloyd, World Cup hero and champion.  Todd Frazier, MLB All-Star and Home Run Derby champion.  As the summer of Rutgers hits its apex, tonight a loyal son of Rutgers will again stand in the spotlight, twenty-two years after his death.  Not for his accomplishments on the court, but for his outlook on life and monumental impact on cancer research.  Jim Valvano should not be forgotten as a distinguished alumni of Rutgers for his career and life accomplishments. Nor should his words of wisdom from his speech shown below, something I watch every year to remind myself of what is really important in life.  His quote, "Don't give up, don't ever give up" are words to remember in every aspect of our lives.  His love for Rutgers, where he also started his coaching career, is on full display as well in the speech.  But more importantly, his love for life and courage in the face darkness should be celebrated.  As another RU alum takes a turn on the national stage tonight on ESPN, let's toast to Rutgers great Jim Valvano!