This week, ESPN will launch its first ever “Jimmy V Week” – a schedule of programming in remembrance of former NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano. ESPN’s tribute is on time as Valvano’s story is one too few people are aware of. His death in 1993 following an exhausting year-long battle with cancer may have simultaneously constituted the most tragic and inspirational sports-related story of our generation.

Valvano enjoyed great success as a basketball coach at NC State. He guided the Wolfpack to multiple ACC titles during the 1980s and received two ACC Coach of the Year Honors in the same decade. Valvano’s greatest coaching accomplishment was leading NC State over heavily favored Houston in the 1983 NCAA National Championship. If the game itself did not provide enough memorable images (Lorenzo Charles’ buzzer-beating slam is undoubtedly the best play in an NCAA Championship, ever) Jimmy V made up the difference, skipping around the court after the final horn sounded like a confused child, hands high in victory, overwhelmed by the joy and sheer improbability of the final play.

Valvano’s charm made it easy for him to transition into life after coaching. His quick wit and humor landed him appearances on late night shows with David Letterman and Johnny Carson. He became an award-winning sports broadcaster for ESPN. He wrote books. He gave motivational speeches to groups and corporations across the country. Even Bill Cosby wanted a piece of Jimmy V. In 1992, the sitcom legend invited Valvano to appear alongside himself on an episode of “The Cosby Show.”

Imagine yourself as Jim Valvano now, at this point in his career. A married man and father of three daughters. An accomplished major college basketball coach. A NCAA champion. An adored national media icon and recent sitcom star. An author. A motivator.

And then comes the news in 1992. The cancer you’ve been battling has spread throughout your body. You have one year to live.

Now what?

For Valvano, the answer was simple. In a public statement soon after learning of the condition of the disease that would take his life, he stated, “I want to help every cancer patient I can now.” Jimmy V did just that by establishing the Jimmy V Foundation, an organization that gives 100 percent of donations to cancer research with an ultimate goal of making cancer history. Jimmy V spent the short remainder of his life offering messages of hope to cancer patients across the country. Jimmy V’s impact can be partially measured by success of the Jimmy V Foundation today. As of 2007, the Foundation had raised over $70 million in cancer research.

In an event that occurred eerily close to his dying day, Jimmy V, in the defining moment of his life, delivered the greatest speech from a sports figure in our time. Physically struggling to make it to the podium at the 1993 ESPY Awards, Valvano gave what has become known as the “Don’t Give Up” speech, based on his popular line, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” The speech was magical, highlighted by a handful of memorable quotes.

Above all, it was a message of hope. After dazzling the crowd and before walking off stage, Jimmy V triumphantly declared, “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.”

Jimmy V died less than two months after his ESPY speech in 1993. ESPN deserves praise this week for remembering a man who has given hope to so many. Check out where you can make donations to the Jimmy V Foundation and learn more about Valvano’s life. And if you have time, Youtube the “Don’t Give Up” speech and try not to laugh, think and cry, all during the 10-minute clip.

Juron is a member of the class of 2008.

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