The Francis Marion University men’s basketball team traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, this past Tuesday for a game against Shaw University. I drove from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and met the team in the Bears’ tiny gymnasium.
I had to meet the team because I am doing my best to care for my mother, Carol, who has been in a hospital and is now in a rehabilitation facility near our home. For two months now she has been unable to keep food down, and she continues to get weaker and weaker while the doctors continue to scratch their heads over the cause.
Jim Valvano used to be the basketball coach at North Carolina State, also located in Raleigh. Perhaps that is why my melancholy thoughts turned to him as I drove past the cotton fields running parallel to Highway 58.
Only 10 years after leading the Wolfpack to the 1983 National Championship, he sat down with Sports Illustrated writer Gary Smith and spoke of his relationship with sports as he battled a cancer that ravaged his body and would soon kill him.
“The triviality of it just clobbers me,” he said. “You get this sick and you say to yourself, sports mean nothing. And that feels terrible. God, I devoted my whole life to it.”
I have devoted my whole life to sports as well. And yet, I thought about how insignificant this game against the Shaw Bears was in relation to the very sick mother I just left behind.
I got to the Shaw campus early and walked around. It was a clear, chilly night, and as I walked I talked to the moon and the stars and asked for many things; some for my mother and some for me.
And then the game began. The Bears boasted the #1 scorer in the nation, Amir Hinton, who was averaging over 35 points a game. Chances were slim my young Patriots were going to pull off an upset.
But we kept battling and hanging in there as the game went back and forth. The hostile crowd was going nuts. We kept our composure, hit some big shots down the stretch, and won the game, 80-72.
It was quite an accomplishment. “That is why athletics are important,” wrote British sportswriter Brian Glanville. “They demonstrate the scope of human possibility, which is unlimited. The inconceivable is conceived, and then it is accomplished.”
Months before his death, Jim Valvano said, “That’s it! That’s the value of sports. All those games, they mean nothing-and they mean everything.”
I drove back from Raleigh with a renewed spirit and optimism. I am bringing my mom here to Florence today to get some second opinions and to continue her recovery.
We won’t give up. We will never give up.