Bob Valvano

Bob Valvano has survived two heart attacks, been diagnosed with a premalignant condition, and has been bothered lately by a bad back. But he hasn’t slowed down much.

You might know Valvano, 64, as a college basketball analyst for ESPN Radio and the University of Louisville or from his local radio show in Louisville, Ky.

If not, you probably have heard of his older brother. The late Jim Valvano coached one of the greatest upsets in sports history when N.C. State shocked Houston in the 1983 NCAA championship game. Jim Valvano is also remembered for his “Don’t ever give up speech” at the 1993 ESPY Awards. He passed away from cancer months later.

Bob Valvano recently spoke to AA about his health, his job, and his famous sibling.

You were diagnosed with monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis last year. How’s your health?

“That’s a condition that I’m going to have to keep an eye on and hope it doesn’t turn into leukemia. Everybody who has leukemia has this, but not everyone who gets this gets leukemia. So far, so good. But it was a little scary.”

Was it even more alarming given your family history?

“My father died of a heart attack. My mother died of cancer after having a heart attack. My brother Jim had cancer and died of it. And my brother Nick had quadruple bypass surgery for his heart. I have the full monty of genetic problems. So yeah, it got my attention when they said this could be blood cancer.”

With your health issues, has doing your job during the pandemic been a concern?

“I’ve been anxious. Fortunately, all the ESPN games we do, we do them from home. And the Louisville games, when they’re on the road, we do them from a studio. When they’re home, we’re way at the top of the KFC Yum! Center. I’m OK with that, But the ACC tournament, I’m supposed to do them from Bristol. I really don’t want to get on an airplane unless I’ve had the (vaccination) shot. I’m a little leery about that. That has me on edge.”

What has been different about broadcasting?

“It’s a weird dynamic. The play-by-play guy is in New Orleans, I’m here. My producer is in California. But that’s how it works. I did an interview with (Virginia coach) Tony Bennett for the pregame show by Zoom. It’s different, but at least we’re working. When you’re courtside, you can hear or read lips. You get an idea of what the coach is pleased about or not pleased about. You can’t do any of that when you’re on remote. That’s tough. That’s one of the values of having an analyst in the building.”

Do you miss coaching?

“I miss parts of it. I never loved recruiting. I liked watching high school games and evaluating players. But there’s just a lot of people you have to go through now.

“But when you coach at Catholic University, St. Mary’s (in Maryland), and Bellarmine University, your kids go on to become senior analysts for the government, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople. That’s fun.”

Lorenzo Charles’s dunk and Jim Valvano running around at the end of the 1983 national championship game are iconic images. Where we you at that moment?

“I had an aisle seat directly opposite the Houston bench. I was behind Dereck Whittenburg when he shot it. knew it wasn’t going in. It was two feet wide right of the basket. My heart sank. Then Lorenzo Charles comes out of nowhere and dunks it. The game’s over. I ran down the aisle and jumped over the press table. I tried to find Jimmy. It was chaos. Everyone was running around. I caught up with him under the basket. He threw himself into a gaggle of people. I jumped on the pile too. He was saying ‘I love you. I love you.’ I don’t know if he was saying it to Lorenzo or Whittenburg.”

Have you returned to The Pit in Albuquerque since?

“We went back when Louisville made the first Final Four run under (Rick) Pitino (in 2005). Before the (regional final) against West Virginia, I was talking with (assistant coach) Kevin Willard. He asked ‘Where were you in (1983)? I said ‘I was up that aisle. I ran down. I tried to find Jimmy and he was looking for someone to hug. Kevin said, ‘If we win today, I’ll come find you for a hug.’

“The buzzer sounded and (Louisville) won (in overtime). Here comes Kevin Willard running over to give me a hug. I couldn’t talk. That was really special. I will never forget Kevin doing that.”

Could you share a fun memory of Jim?

“He had a Volkswagen squareback. He wasn’t making a ton of dough coaching at Bucknell. (Lewisburg, Penn. has) very hilly terrain. We were at the top of a hill, and I said to him ‘I wonder if you just coasted how far you could go.’ He said, ‘Let’s find out.’

“He turned the car off and put it in neutral. We coasted down the hill until we came to a complete stop. We looked at the odometer and it was shocking. We went over a mile. Who else would do that? That’s the kind of stuff I miss.”

What is your relationship with The V Foundation, founded by your brother?

“I’m still on the board. We are very proud of what we’re doing. But I try very hard to generate some fundraising efforts here (in Louisville). People like to know when they donate that the money is making a difference locally.

“The folks at The V Foundation said, ‘Why don’t you start your own 501(c)?’ So, we did. It’s called Kentuckiana Friends of V. We still give some money to the national organization. We also give to the James Graham Brown Cancer Center in Louisville and the Markey Cancer Center in Lexington. It’s a cool way to keep some of the money in the area.”

To donate to The V Foundation, visit here.

To donate to Kentuckiana Friends of V, visit here.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant, Anthony Grant, Amy Grant or Hugh Grant.