It was on another network, but it was riveting television.
I get like that with a compelling story. Never mind that I already knew the story, how it happened and who was involved, but that's the thing about telling a great story: if you do it right, you can have the audience in the palm of your hand.
Such was a guy like Jim Valvano.
It's been thirty years since his team's magical run to an NCAA title, and 20 since his death at the hands of cancer.
Death of the body, because that will happen to all of us. But if you think about it, Jimmy V did what he said what he would do - he didn't let cancer beat him, because he lives on in our collective memory, through film and video, and through a foundation that has raised over a hundred million dollars for cancer research.
My favorite Valvano story was one he told on himself from his first couple of years at N.C. State. After losing his first few games to rival North Carolina, Valvano said he got a letter from an angry alumnus, telling the coach they were supposed to beat the Tar Heels, and if they lost to Dean Smith's team again, the booster was going to drive to Raleigh and shoot Valvano's dog. The coach said he wrote the man back, telling him he didn't like losing to North Carolina, either - oh, and by the way, the Valvano family didn't own a dog. He thought he had the man at that point, until he found out a few days later that the man had sent Valvano a dog, with a note included: "Coach, I've seen your team play. Don't get too attached."
He told that story with gusto. He did everything with aplomb and verve and energy. His '83 team spoke of how he believed he was going to win a national title one day and strived to get his players to believe his belief. In turn, he paid tribute to that championship team, saying they taught him hope in the face of adversity, the power of a dream, of persistence and never giving up, and of loving each other; and that with those things you can accomplish miracles.
And that Wolfpack team did.
They are but one of many such stories, of success and miracles and championships and moments of greatness. And like that team 30 years ago, and the Miracle Mets, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, among others, it was a one-time thing; a flash of lightning causing a single spark that burst into flame, but a flame that extinguished not long after.
So how does a championship moment occur? Is it the accumulation of people, attitudes, efforts, and events all accumulating to that moment in time and space that results in an athletic pinnacle. Or are we following a predetermined course, with the winning and excellence finding us through no fault or design of our own?
In other words: fate or destiny?
We all have our battles, whether it be financial, or athletic, or in any other area you can name. Can we win our personal battles and find success and achievement simply by believing and then living that belief? Is the power of the mind the fuel to attaining the mountaintop of whatever field you choose, and you can truly accomplish anything strictly through faith, and being tenacious towards your dream?
Can you drive yourself to succeed, or is success given to you as a gift?
Choose your sport, and in most cases the greatest players are defined by championships won. Bill Russell is regarded as the greatest team player in sports history, with 11 championships in 13 years. In the debate of the NBA's greatest player - Michael vs. Kobe vs. Lebron - the measurement usually comes down to championships. But can you call an achiever like Jim Kelly, oh-for-4 in Super Bowls, a loser? I don't think so. The Rams teams Steven Jackson played on won 33 percent of the games he played in. There is no way you can say he's anything but a success. But what is that spark, causing the fire of championship success, and why is it found in some but not in others?
Many athletes and coaches, Valvano included, found success in ventures after the games were over. I would guess that those people were able to take the lesson of their shining moments and translate it into everyday life, and yet many champions never recapture anything resembling their golden moment. Why? And is it an external force, or internal?
Valvano related the concept that fueled his passion until the day he left us: we may be ordinary people, but ordinary people do extraordinary things.
So maybe there is something to that equation: having a dream, and powering it with faith and persistence, and you can realize that dream.
Whatever the dream may be.
But you can't give up. Don't ever give up.
The coach said it, and lived it, pretty well.