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March 14, 2013

More Than a Tribute to Jimmy V and 30 Years in the Making

If you believe that a work of art should contain every emotion, from elation to sadness, then you shouldn’t miss ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 film, Survive and Advance (Sun, 9p, ET). This prescription holds true for sports fans and for those who don’t know a basketball from a golf ball. It’s that good.

And since ESPN’s mission is to serve sports fans, I can report the sports portion of this film is as plentiful as any of the many fine 30 for 30 series that have come before it. In fact, on the whole, this just might be the best overall 30 for 30 project so far and contain the most sports footage. Yet this film is so skillfully cut that sports really is a backdrop. It’s a story of hope and determination, of having goals and of revering personal relationships. And since it’s Jimmy V, it’s hilarious at times, sad at others.
 
The main story is about the 1982-83 North Carolina State mens’ basketball team and its coach, Jim Valvano, now known throughout the sports world as the person that the V Foundation for Cancer Research is named for. Under former ESPN chief George Bodenheimer, The Jimmy V fund became religion at the all-sports network. One can only imagine the pressure on director Jonathan Hock to create a film worthy of Valvano, who joined ESPN after he left coaching and whose presence still resonates throughout the Bristol campus. Nobody should have worried—Hock succeeded big time.

Far too few of us know very much about Valvano the coach and the man. This film takes care of that, showing his best and not-so-good sides. “I didn’t like him when he first came up,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski says of the cocky Valvano. But Coach K grew to admire Valvano and delivers some of the most poignant comments in the film, including recounting Jimmy V’s final days before he lost his battle with cancer. K also describes the flight Valvano took to speak at the first ESPY awards, delivering a speech that seemingly will live forever on ESPN and the Internet.

You should not get the impression this film is a maudlin affair or that it’s only a tribute to Jimmy V. The bulk of the piece will leave sports fans completely sated, as every step of NC State’s miracle season is documented with footage and commented on by members of the team, mostly notably Thurl Bailey, whose voice and demeanor should land him numerous voiceover parts, and Dereck Whittenburg.

And for the entertainment portion of our program it’s Jimmy V himself, microphone in hand, doing his schtick, lovingly mocking his Italian roots with a standup routine that Seinfeld himself would enjoy.

Then there are the stories. Whittenburg telling us about the fundamentals he learned from his high school coach, the legendary Morgan Wooten, and how they came back to help him at the apex of his career. There are the jokes and sophomoric fun the NC State players exhibit as they meet to relive that miracle season. And, sadly, there are the tears shed when players discuss Valvano’s passing. In short, director Hock doesn’t make a bad choice in this entire film. Jimmy V would have been proud. 
 
 
 







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