If any basketball coach’s life was tailor-made for cinema, it would be Jim Valvano’s. He owns two of the most iconic moments in sports history. There is the image of him running around on the court looking for someone to hug after North Carolina State upset Houston in the 1983 NCAA Championship game. And there’s his ‘Don’t Give Up’ speech at the 1993 ESPYs, a month before he died from cancer.
Valvano, a larger-than-life figure, is set to get the Hollywood treatment. Three months ago, it was announced that Ray Romano will star in and produce a film about the late coach and broadcaster. According to Dateline.com, the script will be written by Jim Strouse, whose credits include Grace Is Gone and The Winning Season.
Awful Announcing recently caught up with Bob Valvano, Jim’s brother. The ESPN broadcaster and ESPN 680 Louisville radio host hopes that this biopic will be an accurate reflection of his brother. Valvano wants the film to show “warts and all.”
“Often he has been portrayed like a cartoon character,” Bob Valvano (seen above) said. “If you liked him, he was that funny, crazy guy. If you didn’t like him, he was that guy who ‘was cheating his ass off and winning games.’ He was human. He had flaws. But he was an inspiring person. That was legitimate. The message at the ESPYs, that’s who he was.”
According to Valvano, this is Romano’s passion project. The former standup comedian and Emmy-award-winning comic actor is best known for his hit sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2005), which continues to live on in syndication. In recent years, Romano has appeared in dramatic work, most notably Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.
Since the screenplay has yet to be completed, it’s unknown which parts of Valvano’s life will be highlighted. Will it focus on his journey as a coach, culminating with North Carolina State’s shocking run to the title? Will it focus on his fall from grace when he was ousted in 1990 in the wake of NCAA violations? Will it focus on his second act as a beloved ESPN college basketball analyst?
Bob Valvano is certain that Valvano’s battle with cancer as well as the ESPYs speech will be featured.
“I think he found it very inspiring that a guy at that stage of his life would be that funny because Ray’s a comedian,” he said. “And I think he liked the fact that he laid it all out there. That every day you should laugh, think and cry.”
“It’s a very Italian-American speech. Italian Americans like to laugh, and they’re loud. They’re very emotional. The speech had all those things. Ray is like my brother in many ways. He was born in Queens (N.Y.), and my brother was born in Queens. They grew up there in Italian families. He really can relate to that.”
It’s not perfect casting. Romano is 64 years old. Jim Valvano died at 47. Exactly how they intend to pull the age discrepancy off is unknown. However, the Valvano family is cautiously optimistic that this experience will be better than their last with Hollywood.
This isn’t the first time that Jim Valvano has been the subject of a movie. In 1996, CBS released Never Give Up: The Jimmy V Story. The made-for-television feature starred Australian-born actor Anthony LaPaglia as the coach. It was so forgettable that a cursory internet search failed to reveal any video clips.
The Valvanos were not happy with the CBS version.
“It was like a really expensive polyester suit,” Bob Valvano said. “The whole thing came across as artificial.”
Bob Valvano wrote a 2011 biography of his brother, The Gifts of Jimmy V: A Coach’s Legacy, and encouraged Strouse to read it. 2013 ESPN 30 for 30 installment Survive and Advance could also be used as source material.
Bob Valvano is hopeful that Romano can capture his brother’s ability to relate to people from all walks of life. To illustrate that point, he brought up a lasting memory from the funeral.
“I looked at the people in line waiting to pay their respects,” Valvano said. “Digger Phelps was talking to Mike Krzyzewski and behind the two of them was some guy from Wendy’s with a big ketchup stain on his shirt. He had just come over on his break. (Jim Valvano) just connected with all these people. He would have loved it.”