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Don’t Ever Give Up

I’m a big ESPN fan. The other night I saw the show “30 for 30 – Survive and Advance.”  It is the story of the 1983 NC State basketball team and its march to the national championship. Jim Valvano was their coach.

If you haven’t seen the speech that Valvano gave at the ESPYS, go to YouTube.com and type in ‘Jimmy’s 1993 ESPY Speech.’ It is only 11 minutes but it has been watched more than 1.7 million times. Warning: Grab a handkerchief or a tissue before you watch it. In fact, do it before you read the rest of this blog.


The story goes back almost 29 years for me. I was in charge of a convention for Kinetico Water Treatment. We called it our Family Reunion and I had to find a speaker. While reading Sports Illustrated a few months after NC State won I decided that I would do whatever it would take to get Valvano as our speaker. And we got him!

In June 1984 I had the pleasure of picking him up at Cleveland airport to bring to our reunion. I’ll never forget his speech. (In fact, I have a bootlegged copy of it that someone recorded on their cassette tape player underneath our head table. I still listen to it.)

He talked about leadership. He was passionate about remembering where you came from, where you are today and where you are dreaming of going tomorrow. In his ESPY speech he told some of the same stories — but with the same passion and enthusiasm he had 10 years previously at our family reunion.

The “30 for 30” show taught me more about how Valvano shared that passion, particularly with his team. Valvano had the team believing they were a team of destiny.

At the first very practice at NC State he told the players that he was going to win a national championship and was going to ‘cut down the nets’ — the pinnacle of his profession. In fact, the team spent one whole practice session in the beginning of the season rehearsing that feat!

Along the way to that fateful game he finally got all of his players believing in themselves that they could accomplish this. It didn’t matter who they faced — they knew they could win.

Watching the show one could see the importance of faith, in believing that you could overcome any adversity, of becoming a team.

Here is your leadership challenge. Have you stopped believing in the dream that you had when you got into this business? Have you stopped believing that you can overcome the challenges you had during the past year?

At the end of his ESPY speech Valvano, with less than two months to live, introduced the V Foundation for cancer. Since then they have raised $120 million plus in his honor. He closed his speech with the immortal words, “Don’t Give Up … Don’t Ever Give Up” — words that should propel us as leaders.

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