Laugh. Think. Cry.

V himself had said that team wasn’t very good.

After a 6-8 conference record, State was seeded sixth for the 1987 ACC Tournament in Landover. But somehow – not unlike a few years earlier on an even bigger stage – Jim Valvano’s Cardiac Pack had survived and advanced to the title game, where they would face top-seeded Carolina, who had steamrolled through the conference to an unblemished 14-0 record. Trailing the Tar Heels 67-66 with only 14 seconds remaining, Vinny Del Negro stepped to the free throw line in the Capital Centre and coolly drained two foul shots for the 68-67 victory.

I wasn’t yet eight years old that Sunday afternoon, but being a State fan had proven bountiful, I decided. In the days and weeks that followed, I relived that scenario countless times on my steep, dogleg-right driveway so typical of the North Carolina foothills, shooting free throws on a goal that measured about 12 feet on the low side while only around nine on the high side.

I’m much older now, and as Davidson tips off against West Virginia in the first game of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, I’m reticent of the fact that many of the current State students weren’t even alive that afternoon on March 8, 1987, when Del Negro sealed State’s tenth ACC title. At that time, we tied Carolina and bested Duke’s total by three. That title stands still as State’s last one, which is even more damnable considering Carolina has since added seven more conference titles, as well as two national titles, while Duke has added nine more conference titles and three national titles. Meanwhile, during the two decades since we last hung a banner, the N.C. State basketball program has stubbornly endured, insufferably, through the indignity of scandal, followed by complete irrelevance, and even still continues its struggle towards recovery.

The real shame of it all is that an entire generation of State fans knows of Jim Valvano only through his legacy. Laugh, think, cry.

It’s important that even the young generation of State fans understands why Jimmy V was such an endearing – and polarizing – personality for those of us that can never remember being anything but a State fan. But it’s not a romantic history; in fact, it’s quite tragic.

Jimmy V built his legend by winning the most remarkable national title and two ACC titles while at State, but it wasn’t enough to prevent his forced resignation from the team he’d once said he wanted to coach until he died – and tragically, he didn’t miss by much.

To be honest, I don’t completely understand it even now, but I no longer suffer the same naïveté as that kid winning championships in his driveway, so by no means would I defend V’s absolute innocence. After all, under his direction, the athletic department had demonstrated inadequate oversight and had lacked accountability – poor qualities, at best, for a leader. These mistakes weren’t – and aren’t – exclusive to Raleigh. In fact, it took a series of factors to even make it an irrecoverable issue.

Fueled by intense mistrust by the university’s academic community towards Valvano’s athletic department, an impossible power struggle had been borne. The consensus among the academics was that Valvano’s basketball program had become uncontrollable and the university would be far better off without it. To their defense, they had a valid point: State’s admissions process for athletes had indeed become comical, considering one of State’s primary recruits, Chris Washburn, had scored only a 470 on his SAT, while eight of Valvano’s recruits over the years had scored under 600.

This strife remained internal, however, until after a vile, poorly written book (which I refuse to even name here, in the fear it would generate curiosity), rife with inaccuracies and egregious, unfounded accusations of corruption within Valvano’s program triggered both the NCAA investigation and then the independent Poole Commission report that ultimately brought an end to State’s national prominence. The four-person Poole Commission investigated the book’s accusations but uncovered only minor infractions, and ultimately found that Valvano’s actions had “violated the spirit, but not the letter of the law.” However, with the lessons from the scandal at Southern Methodist still fresh, over the next six months a variety of investigations into Valvano were conducted, including one by the North Carolina Attorney General’s office.

Yet not one of these investigations unearthed a single academic or financial infraction within the program. Had anything truly damaging been uncovered, State would have undoubtedly faced far more intense sanctions, including a crippling TV ban. But the NCAA had been satisfied with the university’s internal corrective and punitive actions for the minor violations the Poole Commission had uncovered, which had included tighter restrictions over ticket and shoe distributions to players, limitations of off-campus recruiting visits, Valvano’s resignation as athletic director, and most crippling, a reduction in scholarships for three years. The NCAA also leveled the maximum two-year probation and barred State from participating in the 1990 NCAA Tournament (at 6-8 in the ACC, we wouldn’t have made it anyway).

At Carolina or Duke, that would have been the end of it. Not a single employee on Valvano’s staff had been found to have intentionally violated any rules or laws, but Valvano had committed the seemingly-treacherous act of failing to hold those in his charge accountable. He was viewed as a man who had lost institutional control, a most unrecoverable sin in NCAA terms. Valvano wasn’t immediately dismissed, but a vote of confidence by the chancellor was declined. This left an opening for the factor that ultimately brought N.C. State’s long reign of national prominence to an end – and not with a bang, but a whimper.

This isn’t a story of any ridiculous Carolina conspiracy or even typical media bias; it was far less impressive. It was nothing beyond irresponsible “journalism” at the area’s two largest news outlets, which had launched vicious attacks and spewed relentless vitriol upon Valvano using baseless, unmerited facts and personal bias to such an extent that it couldn’t have been anything other than opportunism at its absolute worst. Even State’s student newspaper joined the popular character assassination of Jim Valvano, who eventually resigned under intense scrutiny and pressure in April 1990.

I was 11 years old in April 1990 when the era of State basketball during which I’d grown up, the only one I knew, came to an end. Now what?

V returned to Reynolds one last time on February 21, 1993, for the 10-year commemoration of his Cardiac Pack’s 1983 championship, and by then he was dying of metastatic bone cancer. As I watched on TV, a lump moved into my stomach during halftime of that Duke game as he left us with that indelible motto to which every State fan can readily and intimately relate: Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.

Two weeks later at the ESPYs – he was so weak that night that his very close friends, Dick Vitale and Coach K, had to help him on the stairs – he repeated those magnificent words from his Reynolds speech, and they’ve been preserved for generations to come through replays during the annual Jimmy V Classic on ESPN. The singular part of his ESPY speech that best summed up why he was such a dynamic presence for State fans wasn’t his statement on mind, heart, and soul, but rather a few minutes before, when he’d gone over his allotted time for his speech: “They got that screen up there flashing 30 seconds, like I care about that screen. I got tumors all over my body and I’m worried about some guy in the back going ‘30 seconds?’”

Fifteen years later that still gets me, every time.

I was very young when his tenure at State came to an inappropriate and unceremonious end, but even then I was acutely aware of his legacy. I really wish State was the staple team of the Jimmy V Classic, but the truth is that the RBC Center will house Les Robinson Court before this university officially promotes Jimmy V. I guess you can see that I’m older and far more cynical now, but I’m still left searching for answers as to how a man who had once drawn so much ire, all that venom, from so many, could now be revered for offering such a redeeming and lasting message.

Why is it that even now, when I watch his ESPY speech each December – like I am now – I’m left nostalgic for an era of State basketball that I hardly remember, and even more ironic, an era that bears the ultimate responsibility for having created the darkest years of State’s rich basketball heritage?

Maybe I’m not the right one to adequately answer why V’s legacy still rings so proudly among us, especially for those of us keenly aware of the ramifications of his indiscriminate oversight while at State. Perhaps it’s quite simply that his message transcends the very essence, the indelible persona, of what it requires to be a State fan: hope.

For the last twenty years, hope has defined us.

After all, it’s all we’ve had.

About LRM

Charter member of the Lunatic Fringe and a fan, loyal to a fault.

Fans Flashback General NCS Basketball Required Reading Tradition

112 Responses to Laugh. Think. Cry.

  1. Afterglow 12/09/2008 at 8:19 PM #

    LRM-Great write up. I too think NC State will never truly honor V which is crazy given everything that this man represents for NC State and beyond. No one can deny the shady things that have happened during his tenure but at the same time-no one can deny the people he’s touched and the incredible things he’s done and continues to do… even after he’s passed on.

  2. old13 12/09/2008 at 8:24 PM #

    Jimmy V lives! It’s the NCSU “leadership” and detractors who are dead (in spirit!)

  3. ADVENTUROO 12/09/2008 at 8:26 PM #

    I was a bit older….in 1983, I was 37…soon to be 38. I had two children…one a teenager and the other a wannabe. We watched the magic unfold. Our household was technologically advanced…we had a VCR…My teenage son was superstitious. I was NOT allowed to start recording until AFTER the ACC tournament. I also had a brother-in-law with a new wife. They were BOTH State Grads. They drove an hour to watch each game with us. We watched the ride begin and held on tight against Pepperdine. We were ESTATIC the night of the WIN of the Elite Eight. I had tickets held by the WPC and was getting ready to cash in some FF miles to Alberquerque…but our plans didn’t work out. My BIL’s wife and I were about to go by ourselves…but folks overruled.

    We ALL went to Reynolds the next day…my kids played hooky from school. From the second floor of Reynolds, we spotted my OTHER BIL on the floor. He was a student at that time. He also attended the rallies and bonfires at NCSU prior to each NCAA game and met a Meredith student…who became and still is his wife….our STATE roots run deep…

    I wrote letters to every STATE official, newspaper, TV Commentator, etc. when they started Jimmy V’s crucifiction. All to NOT AVAIL.
    I cancelled my N&O subscription and also my Alumni membership. I STILL write letters and emails…and get curt responses about how the administration admires Jimmy V.

    I remember where I was when I learned he had cancer….he was two years or so younger than me. I had a co-worker whose children were close to the V kids…so I had some insight as to his condition and knew the end was near. My wife came outside and told me he had died and I CRIED…

    We still watch the games….I added the Reynolds speech and the ESPY speech to the tapes…got to get them on DVD sometime.

    My son is a State Grad (with a JDD from UNX) and my daughter followed her mother’s footsteps and is a Meredith grad…we are a STATE family…I won’t go into the cousins that graduated from STATE.

    Jimmy V, a man whom I later met once at a local WPC meeting, was an individual that only walks this earth so often. If you want to really understand him…buy the books….find an AUDIO (cassette) of HIM reading “They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract and THEN Declared Me Dead…”.

    I listened to those Tapes as I drove to various manufacturing facilities in the Southeast…I would use them for ideas and inspiration for the Safety Presentation speeches that I gave. Everyone could relate to Jimmy V….even the Clemson and USC folks. They respected him and admired what he accomplished in 1983 and what his life became after that.

    God Rest you Jimmy V and may God have mercy on the Administration because they and the irresponsible journalists will eventually pay a heavy price for their unprofessional sins…

    I also now fully understand that you do have to Laugh, Think, Cry and ALSO tell your family and friends that you love them…fortunately, my daughter who was 11 in 1983 has blessed us with two grandchildren and the little granddaughter (the spitting image of her mother) makes my day…I laugh with her and she makes me cry sometimes just looking at her and seeing how beautiful she is.

    On to Birmhingham…I promise to be civil to the Rutgers fans….they also think a lot of Jimmy V.

  4. Sweet jumper 12/09/2008 at 8:29 PM #

    Case, Maravich, Sloan, Valvano 1946-1990
    Robinson, HWSNBN, Lowe 1991-present
    Quite a contrast
    The N&O and our administration did one hell of a job selling V down the river with false and exagerrated accusations and then allowing the bball program to sink with no liferaft.

  5. Pack1997 12/09/2008 at 8:32 PM #

    V wasn’t necessarily a great coach. He was great motivator. If he had half the recruits Dean got he would have won more titles. Embracing Jimmy V would mean the University would have to admit at some level they were wrong. I work in University system and can tell you people who work for Universities are never wrong. (In their heads atleast)

  6. Sweet jumper 12/09/2008 at 8:34 PM #

    V started the campaign for a new arena and raised quite a bit of money before his ouster. His plan was for the arena to located on the Centennial Campus. Then this morphed into the RBC center at the fairgrounds. V had the vision and it is a crime that our new arena is not named the James T Valvano Center(the V Dome).

  7. howlie 12/09/2008 at 8:48 PM #

    Beautifully and accurately written.
    Nothing else needs be said.

    Thanks LRM.

  8. aPACKadeez 12/09/2008 at 8:58 PM #

    While I watched the Jimmy V classic pregame, I got upset watching Jimmy V, Robin Roberts, Wayman Tisdale, and Dicky V talk about Valvano. What a great coach, teacher, inspirer Coach V was.

    If only our basketball team were such warriors this year. I’m watching Davidson play WVU, and even if WVU doesn’t have anyone to match Curry’s level of play, they scrap and fight and REBOUND. Seriously, Curry may be better than any ONE of our players, but if we defend as a TEAM, with a tough TEAM effort, and REBOUND as a TEAM, at least we would have had a chance to win the game. That whatever crazy footer three that Stephen hit, didn’t sink us, our effort alone sunk us. WVU is outrebouding Davidson by 17 boards…which means they would outrebound us by how many???

  9. wufpaxno1 12/09/2008 at 9:12 PM #

    This piece does a nice job of explaining the frustrations that the State faithful have suffered over the last 20 years.As a state fan in my mid 40’s, the Wolfpack basketball legacy I associate with is still the one of the 70’s and 80’s, when we stood on equal footing with UNC and a step above the Dookies. But the newer generation of Wolfpack Nation knows none of that, and worse the younger generation of Tarheel Nation knows none of that, they belittle State because they never knew the times when NC State Basketball was to be feared. Over the past 20 years State has struggled just to reach mediocrity and the younger generation and the administration has just accepted this as the norm and has not demanded more. The problem is that this is not acceptable to my generation who has expected more from a once proud basketball program with a strong tradition that seems so close in the past but yet so far away in the future. We love our Pack and it hurts us to accept anything less than the success that we once enjoyed and may have taken a little too much for granted. May God Bless Jimmy V for continuing that tradition and building upon it, and may we see it again in the not too distant future. That would mean as much to Jimmy V as any recognition.

    LRM Note: Welcome to the Lunatic Fringe — glad to have you.

  10. BoKnowsNCS71 12/09/2008 at 9:22 PM #

    And NC State still to this day has nothing to recognize Coach V. The Alumni Club will never see a dollar from me until that is rectified.

  11. spanky 12/09/2008 at 9:51 PM #

    I was born in October of 1987, therefore I have no true pesronal recollections of the man. I was born to a diehard UNC fan for a father (who’s mother was a State fan and father was a Duke fan) and an apathetic mother, so I had no insight into NCSU athletics until I decided to come to State for the Vet school.
    I think the most disgusted I’ve ever felt was listening to a classmate talk and I heard the question “Who is Jim Valvano?” come out of their mouths…

    It is a great question and one that needs to be answered… why does the NCSU administration refuse to acknowledge Valvano while the rest of the country loves and reveres him for the amazing person that he truly was.

    I would recommend reading any of the books about Jimmy V as I have read every one of them, from his autobiography to books like “The Gifts of Jimmy V” written by his brother. Some of them have even brought lumps to my throat. The man was truly an amazing human being. Every time I’m reminded of what happened during his ousting I get truly sickened at this school.

  12. redfred2 12/09/2008 at 9:55 PM #

    Great stuff LRM!!!

    I’m trying to limit my long drawn out posts, but this subject matter isn’t helping. Anyway, you’re so right LRM, that really was the end of NC State back then. NC State had already rotted internally, from the very top. Jim Valvano’s major sin of “violating the spirit, but not the law”, was just the first indication that the effort had been a success, and that the offices of NC State University had finally been over run with inferior individuals who weren’t capable of carrying out the will of the people who had implemented NC State’s great legacy to begin with.

    There may be some different names and different faces nowdays, but the spirit of those same inferior individuals is still alive and well, and gamefully employed in West Raleigh today.

  13. Wolf Dog 12/09/2008 at 9:59 PM #

    People say Valvano was not totally innocent. That is not accurate. Valvano walked into the middle of a long battle between the N&O and the chancellor, his name was Poulton if I remember correctly. He was naive to think the N&O would do the things they did.

    Next V walked into the middle of a long standing Battle between the feds and the UNCC system over Minority admission and federal funding. UNC System board closed the minutes to the meeting with Valvano. They say he didn’t graduate his players, yet his record for his minority players graduating was greater than the University’s graduation for minorities. Couldn’t let that cat out of the bag with the troubles they had been having iwth the feds.

    Next V was targeted by the UNC Board. for in their mind raising the cost of coaches’ salaries. V’s company did consulting. V led a movement for coaches salaries to be guaranteed. Coach K took this advice in his contract with Duke. This and other items prompted him to be investigated by the SBI. Investigated like a criminal. How could V ever see something like this coming.

    The NCAA investigator said no program had ever been so investigated and come out so clean. V did not violate his contract yet the UNC Board fired him, telling him they would not honor their own contract. V was the better person here he had a slam dunk winable law suit yet choose to walk away and not harm the university and the people he so loved. Although had he sued and won, people might be allot less hestitant to say he was not so innocent.

    I believe ABC News and every media outlet that reported false info about him except the N&O ran a retraction or cleared him. Coach K loved him and even Dean Smith filled his schedule out of respect for the man.

    Yes, he was innocent and left this world with his character in tact in my view.

  14. wolfman 12/09/2008 at 10:00 PM #

    I get choked up every time I watch that speech. As a kid I remember watching the Wolfpack teams of the mid to late 80s and loving every minute of it. It was then that I made up my mind that I wanted to be a part of something special by going to NC State. Now it all seems so distant, like a long lost dream. I grew apathetic as the 90s passed by, thanks to the way V was ran out on a rail and Wolfpack basketball became an afterthought. It was only after setting foot on campus as a freshman and going inside Reynolds that I was reminded of that feeling of being a part of the Wolfpack. I’m appalled that our university still refuses to recognize one of the greatest mentors and teachers ever to set foot on campus, much less play a part in the V foundation or its signature event.

    Thanks for the memories V, hopefully one day we will do you the justice you deserve.

  15. Dr. BadgerPack 12/09/2008 at 10:16 PM #

    LRM- Great writing. I truly enjoy every one of your perspective pieces that you put on here. Keep it up!

  16. highstick 12/09/2008 at 10:17 PM #

    Adventuroo, we must be darned close to the same age. This whole thing has made me sick to my stomach with NC State for years. Maybe one day, someone will acknowledge the truth, but it’s unlikely. Until then, I hope everyone involved does know that there are some of us here that know and understand what you did to Jimmy was dishonest, criminal, and I hope you rot in hell over it!

    Why don’t we all just start calling the RBC, the Jimmy V Arena at every opportunity whether they like it or not~

  17. redfred2 12/09/2008 at 10:27 PM #

    Man, could I go off on a tangent right now. Everything about it SUCKED, and in reality, North Carolina State University SUCKED EVEN WORSE, and NC STATE UNIVERSITY STILL SUCKS TODAY for what it did, did not do, or whatever.

    The lead investigator even said something like, “I’d be proud for my son to play in Jim Valvano’s program.”

    I think they (the many NC State administrators since) have to be so ashamed more than anything , that if ANYONE brings up the name Jim Valvano again, that they’ll be forced to look in the rearview mirror and have to face the reality of what short sighted, simple minded, buffons that they all were, and still are, today.

  18. packfan96 12/09/2008 at 10:30 PM #

    In 1993, I was one of the lucky 12,400 fans crammed into Reynold’s to hear V’s final speech at the old gym. I was a freshman at State and it ranks as one of my better memories of State. I remember the emotions shared by myself and everyone in attendance as V mesmerized us for one last time. I am grateful for the experience!!!

    Unfortunately, I am part of probably the only class at State that never had a winning season in basketball (1992-1996).

    LRM Note: Heckuva memory to have. I was a student from 1997-98 through December 2001. You beat Carolina four times, at least. I only beat them once.

  19. ppack3 12/09/2008 at 10:46 PM #

    I was 8 in ’83. I remember my best friend sitting in my living room, huddled aroud a TV on a cart, our faces painted half red, half white. And, all of my family behind us watching the miracle unfold before us. I wasn’t allowed to go to Hillsborough St. with my older relatives, but I recall wanting to, and begging for the stories later, and I got some.
    I sincerely appreciate the level headed take on the whole situation. I was too young to fully comprehend the happenings of the day. Although, my family and friends have given me more than their fair share of their takes on the V fiasco.
    I feel like Sidney brings back a little of that fire. The younger kids are putting their all into this. The few Herb guys left are the “leaders” of this team, and they are, let’s just say, less than enthusiastic about having to take orders from young gaurds. Now, they are all on the front line, looking for a Freshman and a Sophmore on the perimeter. They don’t like it, and it shows. But, as is Statefan’s mantra:”Hope springs eternal.” a good recruiting class or two, and you’re looking at a different program. I long for the day that my child/children know NCSU basketball as a relevent entity. I think Football may beat it to the punch.
    I have to add, I beleive the N&O is suffering a slow death. It is losing circulation with every obituary it writes. My mother has a daily subscription, and she recieves her paper about four days out of seven. Complaints go un rectified. She is almost suprised when it comes. They are laying off people right and left. They are outsourcing every logistical operation aside from circulation, and they aren’t doing a good job at keeping up with meager demand. Now, they are basically the Charlotte Observer. Thank God for the Interwebs! I, personally, decided a long time ago, never to purchase another N&O. I should never have to buy another one, for any reason, unless I am training a new pet. The relevence of that publication is, rightfully, suffering the same fate as the NCSU Basketball program that they helped burn to the ground! Good riddance N&O. I guess all of those journalism grads from UNX will have to move to Charlotte. Very sad, huh?

  20. OwenDorm83 12/09/2008 at 10:48 PM #

    Like many of you, I still haven’t quite gotten over how NC STATE, the place of so many great memories, treated Jim V. What a bunch of lame pansy assed administrators, from the UNC Board of Governors to Larry Monteith at NCSU and all in between. Run the man out of town & pin him as a scapegoat for such minor items.

    RIP, Jim V. Thanks for the awesome memories. You deserve much better treatment than you got.

  21. redfred2 12/09/2008 at 10:49 PM #

    This, this is not a good subject at all. This subject makes me want ot hate the university that I love, and, it’s winning the battle.

    LRM Note: It helps to look at it like this: God bless America, but G****** Uncle Sam.

  22. EverettBeez 12/09/2008 at 11:01 PM #

    Outstanding memories of Coach V, nicely written. Well done.
    too bad, as redfred states, the great memories of 83 and V then bring to mind all the disrespect the college continues to show his memory.

  23. spanky 12/09/2008 at 11:01 PM #

    Sorry to post again, but this quote by OwenDorm83 reminded me of it…
    “What a bunch of lame pansy assed administrators, from the UNC Board of Governors to Larry Monteith at NCSU and all in between. Run the man out of town & pin him as a scapegoat for such minor items.”

    It makes me sick to see a building on Centennial Campus named after Monteith. With all the readings I’ve done he was a pure snake during the Valvano ousting after Poulton had been moved out of the way…

    And LRM GREAT writeup!

    and Redfred… agreed… I look so much into it and know a hell of a lot about it considering I was barely 4-5 years old when this took place. This is a subject that makes me despise this University… the same one that I love so much. I picked up my class ring today and was soo giddy and excited and very proud of it. But this subject makes my stomach turn in knots…

  24. wufpup76 12/09/2008 at 11:02 PM #

    Well done.

    Although I’m sure he didn’t intend it this way – or probably even care – V really is having the last laugh on all those who worked so hard to cast him out and vilify him … It takes a special person capable of extraordinary accomplishments to overcome how V was run out

    I sincerely hope that it drives ALL of those who hated, despised, and helped cast the man out ABSOLUTELY CRAZY that he is such a beloved, recognized, and admired figure today … His legacy of hope, survival, and courage under duress will live on for others to cherish, while the only legacy of those who casted stones upon him is just that – that they once worked so hard to rid their University and state of a man that whose words and spirit will endure

    I respect the academics and realize their importance, but Jesus …

    It’s so tragic that our University that we love will not honor a man that we all love so much – more than just a few words or video clips here or there

    At the risk of offending some (sorry), I am a religous man and happen to believe that things happen for a reason … While I am very sad over how Jim Valvano was run out of State, I am also very thankful that he went to ESPN, that he went to those ESPY’s, that he made that speech … Sure, similar things could’ve come while he was still associated w/ the University, but I think about all the lives V has touched while not even meeting the overwhelming majority of them … Would there be a V Foundation? A Jimmy V Classic? A charity golf tournament?

    God Bless Jimmy V and all he has done for people, people with cancer, people who need inspiration, people who need hope

    I pray that one day our University will embrace this man and his legacy and finally let everything that is in the past stay in the past … It’s time to be proud to be associated not only with N.C. State, but also Jim Valvano

    Please forgive my long drawn out post

  25. redfred2 12/09/2008 at 11:10 PM #

    Funny, but Jim Valvano is honored and admired by people everywhere, but yet I don’t really see that same type of admiration or attention being paid to NC State University.

    Do you think anyone in Raleigh can grasp that?

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