Peyton Manning hosted the 25th annual ESPY Awards about twenty-five miles from my television set a couple of nights ago in downtown Los Angeles. The ESPY phenomenon was conceived as the MTV Awards for sports, but the original show in 1993 instantly became so much more when Jim Valvano — Jimmy V — delivered his heroic speech less than two months before he died from bone cancer. He was 47 years old. Guess which birthday I’m looking at?
I remember that inspirational speech quite well because I had just completed my first season as a high school basketball coach and was scheduled to attend a Nike coaching clinic in Chicago later that summer where Jimmy V was a featured speaker — legendary Villanova coach, Rollie Massimino, had to fill in following his good friend’s untimely death.
The entire clinic was a heady experience for a baby basketball coach from small-town Arkansas like me what with Rollie eulogizing Jimmy V, foul-mouthed John Chaney stringing together profanities like an auctioneer, classy Lute Olson sharing Arizona’s secrets, a potentially inebriated P.J. Carlesimo basically phoning it in, and upstart Cincinnati head coach Bob Huggins sharing a story that has helped shape the trajectory of my adult life.
Huggins was just a year removed from a shocking run to the Final Four in Minneapolis where his Bearcats lost by four points to the uber-talented Fab Five from Michigan. Following the loss, a dejected Coach Huggins walked the cavernous halls of the Metrodome and bumped into his father, who himself had been a successful high school basketball coach. Huggins told us that he expected his dad to give him a hug or something but instead heard him say, “If you would have rebounded better you would have won.”
Thanks, dad. Huggins reported that he was furious. Until he thought about it and determined that if they would have rebounded better they would have won. So that’s what he set out to work on instead.
I needed to hear that at the time and have needed to hear it again on many occasions ever since. Feeling sorry for yourself is easy work that feels surprisingly good and well-deserved, but that and a dollar can rent you a movie on iTunes. It is far more productive to figure out what you can control and get to work on that instead.