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The Jimmy V Classic

December 19, 2001 Columns No Comments




A great night Jimmy would have called his own.

Some laughed. Some thought. Some cried. Needless to say, everyone had
a heck of a night.

Jim Valvano, in a famous speech given at the ESPY awards less than two
months before he succumbed to cancer in 1993, said these poignant words:
“If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a
day.”

The 20,029 fans that attended the seventh annual Jimmy V Classic at the
Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey all can claim that they surely had a
very full evening. The night featured two games, each decided by a mere
three points, and lasted into the wee hours of the next morning. Most
importantly, proceeds from the games go toward the V Foundation for cancer
research, a charity that was started by Valvano and his family while he
valiantly fought the disease.

Much like Jimmy V would have wanted it, the Classic felt a lot like a
night of boxing. The first game, the undercard, featured two borderline top
25 teams in Alabama and Temple. The Crimson Tide led by a lot for most of
the second half until a late run by the Owls closed the gap to a one
possession game with time dwindling down. Unfortunately for Temple, it was not able to capitalize on the near-miraculous comeback and lost 70-67.

The sold-out crowd streamed into the Meadowlands as the first bout was
being played, with many fans coming primarily for the main event of the
evening: Duke vs. Kentucky. In a rematch of a 1998 Jimmy V game, the two
legendary powerhouses butted heads for almost three hours. Just like the
game three Classics ago, this one was won by the Blue Devils, who improved to
10-0 on the season.

It surely was not easy for the team from Durham, N.C., as Duke was down
by 12 points midway through the second half. That is when the best player in
the nation, Jason Williams, took over the game. The point guard scored 23 of
his team’s final 31 points in regulation, including a clutch free throw with
just under nine seconds remaining that forced the teams to play an overtime
period.

In boxing, a match cannot go more than the scheduled number of rounds,
but on this night of great collegiate basketball, the fans and the nation
watching on ESPN were treated to another five minutes of stellar action.
Valvano said, “I urge all of you to enjoy your life, the precious moments you
have.” Duke and Kentucky gave the fans five more minutes of truly
wonderful basketball to cherish and enjoy.

In overtime, the teams went back and forth, almost like the 12th round of
a bloody and hard-fought heavyweight title fight. In the end, top-ranked
Duke was able to absorb the hits and win its 20th straight game, 95-92.

Williams finished the match with a new career-high of 38 points, shooting
7-10 from behind the 3-point circle. The point total also set a Jimmy V
Classic record for most points in a game. On this night that college
basketball shined, there was no bigger star than the junior from nearby
Plainfield, New Jersey.

Besides coming to watch the student-athletes dazzle the crowd with their
basketball talents, the patrons also took part in helping to fight one of the
worst killers in the world. Just before Valvano lost his battle with cancer
on April 28, 1993, he started his foundation to try and find a cure for the
disease. “We need your help,” he said when announcing the formation of the
charity. “We need money for research. It may not save my life. It may save
my children’s lives. It may save someone you love.”

All over the arena there were booths where people could donate money to
fight in Jimmy V’s ultimate battle. For those not at the Meadowlands,
calling 1-800-4-JIMMYV or visiting www.jimmyv.org
can accomplish the same thing.

College basketball, while seemingly important during an evening like
the one on December 18, 2001, is pointless when considering what Valvano and
millions of people encounter against the enemy of cancer. The only way that
sports mean something is if they cause people to laugh, think and cry. On
this night, the play of four great teams stirred these emotions in thousands
of individuals. Consider this a Classic that Jimmy V would gladly call his
own.

     

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