By Jeremy Clements
In 1983, a team from N.C. State shocked the college basketball world and upset the heavily favored University of Houston Cougars in the national title game. The rest, as you already know is history. What does an underdog story from 1983 have to do with the 2013 Louisville Cardinals? The answer, in a word, is love.
Ten years after winning the 1983 national title, Jim Valvano returned to Reynolds Coliseum to take part in a ceremony honoring him and his Wolfpack team. At the time, Valvano had been visibly weakened by cancer and for many, this would be the last time they saw or talked to the legendary coach before his passing. Of course his just being back on campus in Raleigh was noteworthy, but it’s the message he shared that night that still resonates to this day.
“The ’83 team taught me about dreaming and the importance of dreams, because nothing can happen if not first a dream. … If you have someone who never gives up, who has great hope … Don’t ever give up, don’t ever stop fighting!”, Valvano said in front of a sold out crowd. “The ’83 team gave you hope, gave you pride, told you what hard work was about.”
He could have stopped there and walked away to a standing ovation, but the coach had more to say. He had to share a message about love. “lastly what they taught me is to love each other. They taught me what love means. When you have a goal, when you have a dream, and when you have belief, and you throw in that concept of never stop believing in and loving each other, you can accomplish miracles.“
That is where the 2013 Louisville Cardinals come in.
During Louisville’s Sweet 16 round matchup with Duke, sophomore guard Kevin Ware suffered the most gruesome injury I have ever seen on a basketball court. After attempting to block a shot, Ware landed awkwardly and broke his leg in two places and was left sitting on the court with the bone sticking about 6 inches out of his leg. Instantly his teammates dropped to the hardwood, almost as if they felt the pain themselves. They huddled around their fallen comrade as we was taken off the court and left for the hospital. Then, they found another gear and outscored Duke 64-43 in the final 26:33 of play to earn a berth in the Final Four.
After the game, head coach Rick Pitino and several of the players discussed the injury and how they found the resolve to win. Most of what was said can be summed up with these five words: “We did it for Kevin”. The emotion shown on the sidelines and the tears shed by both the players and coaches in the locker room after the game showed just how much these players care about each other. While Louisville isn’t the underdog that Valvano’s ’83 Wolfpack was, the way they responded and continue to push forward for their fallen teammate echoes that message Jimmy V shared with the fans in Reynolds Coliseum ten years ago.