Coach Jim Valvano was a dreamer.
It started in high school. At 16 years old he heard a talk by Olympic Champion Bob Richards. Bob told them, “God must love ordinary people because he made so many of us. Yet, every single day, in every walk of life, ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things!” Jim said that talk changed his life. So it was natural that once he got out in the world and became a college basketball coach he started dreaming big.
Pretty soon he knew what he wanted to do.
Next time he was visiting home for the holidays he told his dad, “Dad, I’m going to win a National Championship.” That was that. His dad didn’t say much about it. A few days passed and it was time for Jim to return to work. Before he left his dad called him up to his bedroom. “See that suitcase?” Jim saw a packed suitcase standing at the foot of the bed and said, “Yeah, what’s that all about?”
His Dad said the most important words he could have said: “I’m packed, when you play and win that National Championship I’m going to be there, my bags are already packed.”
The gift he gave him was that he believed in him. When he failed, he believed in him. When they kept getting knocked out of the tournament year after year, his Dad would tell him, “You’re getting closer, it’s going to happen, my bags are packed!” Over the years it became a running thing between them during tough times: “my bags are packed.” When someone else believes in you it makes it hard for you to doubt yourself—it gives you strength.
“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person. He believed in me.”—Jim Valvano
Any time a team wins a championship, it’s a result of them overcoming incredible obstacles. When have you ever heard anyone say in the aftermath of victory, “Wow, that was easy”? Never. They always talk about the things they had to overcome, and how that makes the win so sweet.
But Valvano’s 1983 NC State basketball team set an all time standard for overcoming. They had lost 10 games in the season, and had to win the end of season ACC Tournament to even get in the NCAA tournament. This they miraculously did, beating both Virginia with 7’4” Ralph Sampson and North Carolina with Michael Jordan. Then they went on a legendary 6-0 run in the NCAA Tournament, beating one higher-rated team after another all the way to the top.
Every year the team had a practice totally devoted to visualizing the traditional ceremony all basketball champions do: cutting down the nets. He had special gold scissors. They supported each other as they took turns climbing the ladder and snipping a souvenir. They visualized how special it would be. They let the emotions wash over them. It gave them a memory to carry, and it gave them something extra to keep their minds focused on winning.
That’s because they seemed to be such a long way from being a championship team. They didn’t know what was in their coach’s mind. They didn’t know he had a fire inside that had started burning at 16 years old, and had been sustained ever since by his father’s belief in him. They had that same reaction when he started talking National Championship at his first NC State practice… the first one!