This week is Jimmy V Week on the Worldwide Leader, and undoubtedly viewers will have ample opportunity to catch replays of Jim Valvano’s memorable ESPY’s speech from 1993.
I was only 22 when Valvano delivered his famous “Don’t Give Up” speech as he accepted the Arthur Ashe Award at the 1993 ESPY Awards. And much like a famous work of art, it’s brilliance grows through the years. Now, 19 years later, I can easily make the case that this speech is, without a doubt, the best one ever.
10 Reasons Why Jimmy V’s ESPY’s Speech is the Best Ever.
It’s prophetic. Early on, Valvano challenges his audience to “laugh, think, and cry” everyday. Therefore, it’s only fitting that by the end of his 11 minute speech, anybody watching this speech was moved to do all three.
It’s timeless. Regardless of whether you saw the speech live, like me, or just checking it out now it for the first time, Valvano’s remarks easily stand the test of time. A great motivational primer for all generations… and for any motivational purpose.
No waste. Just like a good screenwriter, Valvano moves things along so effortlessly, with no wasted throw away lines. You can tune in at any point during the speech and feel like you didn’t miss anything.
Valvano pays homage to his family, past and present. And justifiably so. He alludes to not only his immigrant parents, but takes the time to point out his wife and kids seated in the audience. A nice touch, and very humanizing.
Self-deprecating humor. Of course. This was Jimmy V afterall… it was his calling card. He recounts a memorable (and funny) anecdote about a locker room speech early on in his coaching career, pointing out how he badly butchered the inspirational payoff line in front of the entire team.
He doesn’t oversell himself. Throughout his delivery, you don’t hear Valvano raise his voice, shout, or use senseless sports metaphors to make his point. Quite the contrary. He’s silky smooth the entire time, even in the face of death, devoid of any stutters or pregnant pauses. A true professional.
Valvano addresses his own mortality, and doesn’t allow anyone to feel sorry for him. The back half of his speech is full of his proclamations of his fleeting time left with us. He’s very matter of fact, making sure not to overplay the sympathy card, though in this instance he’d have every right to do so. Several times we hear him say “I don’t have much time left” in a way that inspires rather than saddens.
“Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” Self-explanatory. If you’ve never heard these words uttered, then I’m truly speechless (pardon the pun).
Eerie foreshadowing. When Valvano begins to wrap up his speech, he bids adieu to the audience with the farewell words “I know I’ve got to go” as if he’s telling the audience that his time is in fact coming to a close. Valvano passed away 8 weeks later.
Best closing line. Ever. Who hasn’t heard Valvano’s infamous closing charge “Cancer can take away all 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.”
If you’ve never seen Valvano’s speech, you should.
And in doing so, who knows, you may in fact find that you’ll laugh, think… and cry. Now that’s some speech…