V is funny funny. Predawn funny. After-dinner funny. Talk-show funny. Sit-down, stand-up, prone-supine, in-your-face, sober-or-high, alltime hall-of-fame funny. V doesn't engage in conversation, he plays the room. V doesn't want a beer, he needs a hand mike. V doesn't live life, he collects material. V has a sense of the comedic art—precise timing, a special radar to the jugular vein. What do you expect? The man took comedy courses in college. V is a connoisseur of the greats. Benny. Burns. Mort Sahl. Mark Twain. Richard Pryor. He didn't just laugh at Jimmy Durante. At age seven he was doing Durante. Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, whereever you are. V's heroes are Allens. Not Richie and Lucius. Fred and Steve. All seriousness aside. And Bill Murray. That's the fact, Jack. And Robert Klein. We will send you. FREE of charge, EVERY single record EVER made. And, yeah, a real Rat. A lady Rat. Joan Rivers. Can we talk? Can V?
So there I was when Lorenzo Charles dunked the ball.... I told him in the time-out, Lo', make believe anything that comes near the rim is a hubcap...and I know we have won it, the national championship, and I am going to enjoy this and be famous so I start to run. Where was I running? I was running around looking for Dereck Whittenburg to hug. Because I have dreamed of this moment all my life and I know I am only the 28th coach in history to win it and 60 million people are watching and I have been hugging Whitt after all of our games because he is my designated hugger and I know the cameras are on me and I am thinking V will make some history here. No question about it. Every Sunday of my life I have tuned in Wide World of Sports and heard about The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat and watched that skier come down the mountain...boom, schuss, boom, splat...and somewhere in France some poor woman is going "Look, Pierre, here comes ton père" and I know all they have ever had to show on Wide World is the Agony of Defeat and now I, V, will be the Thrill of Victory. No question whatsoever. I know the cameras are zeroing in on me running in slo-mo, like this [feigns running in slo-mo], and the crowd is roaring aaahhhhhh and I am running and Whitt is running and Chariots of Fire is playing in the background and it is going to be history! Me! Whitt! Slo-Mo! Thrill of Victory! History! Me! Whitt! Together! Hug! Chariots of Fire! And I will be on TV forever. No question. And then I get out there in the middle of nowhere and there's Whitt...hugging somebody else! [Pause for laugh from portion of audience which has not fallen off chairs in delirium.] So I run left, looking for somebody to hug. Everybody is hugging somebody else. I run right, looking. Everybody is hugging. There is nobody left to hug! I have just won it all. History, 28th coach, 60 million watching. And I got nobody to hug! Where am I running? I finally find our athletic director, Willis Casey, a bit old and fat but a nice man. My boss, Gave me my break. He grabs me. He hugs me. Wonderful! Great! Finally, a hug! He's not Whitt. He's old and fat, but a hug's a hug. Slo-mo hug. Chariots of Fire hug. History. No question. And then Willis Casey kisses me square on the mouth! [Pause for screaming.] I have just won the national championship, 28th alltime to do it...60 million have watched me running around like a maniac...and then I fall into the arms of a fat old man who kisses me square on the mouth! The guy watching in Dubuque puts down his beer and says, "Mabel, come look at this." And me, V, the champion-of-the-world coach, running slo-mo, history, forever. I feel the Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat all at the same time! No question about it.
For years Jim Valvano was known as just another young coach who could talk, recruit and, as they say in the trade, "turn the program around." The distinguishing feature of his personal program was that he could also make an awful lot of people laugh awfully hard. His are not gags out of Abe Lemons' twang bag of Will Rogers country tricks. Nor are they of the Al McGuire stripe: The Bowery Boys Visit High Mass. No. Valvano embellishes real-life situations with absurdity and threads whole wardrobes of hilarious routines out of incidental sackcloth. Thus: Bob and Ray and V. To this day Valvano claims he has never uttered an actual joke. "I'm not Myron Cohen," he says. But lines? Ah! Valvano seems to have blurted out a line or two—or 10—for literally every aspect of his life; moreover, throughout the monologues he has the true comic's saving grace of self-deprecation.
Nationality: "But really, I thought it was impossible to retire from being an Italian. But then my mother joined the bridge club, got her driver's license and refused to make my father his sandwiches."
Marriage and the Family: "Yeah, and I've got a great home life. My wife is the former Pamela Susan Levine, the first girl I dated who didn't have a mustache. She saw my nose and thought I was Jewish. I saw her name and thought it ended in i. It was three years before we realized we had a mixed marriage. Now we have three great kids: Angelo, Irving and Scott. What does my wife make for dinner? Reservations."
Education: "So, I gave a scholarship to Rutgers but the recipient must have a higher average than I did. That lets out about three people on the East Coast."
The South: "But seriously, I really love the South—the pace, the quiet. They have the traffic report on the radio, and it might as well be the civil defense alert. Nothing. No traffic. And the food. I started going to the old barbecue, which they call a pig-stickin'. Yeah. I get up in the morning and say, whoa, boy, there's nothin' I'd like better today than go stick a pig. I went to about 40 pig-stickin's one April and set the world's record for going to the john the following May. Now the ugliest four-letter word I know is p-o-r-k. And they drink that ice tea, right? The first year that I was in Raleigh I drank so much ice tea I started to feel like I was Arthur Godfrey."
That Championship Season: "And you wouldn't believe all the people complaining about me commercializing the NCAA title. Well, yeah. But why shouldn't I milk it? We're an agricultural institution. I just hope they don't invoke the fluke rule on us this year."
Angelina Valvano says her middle son, James Thomas Anthony, "never woke up unhappy"; that he "hit the floor singing." But at St. Leo's grammar school the nuns hit the roof. Mr. Valvano, if it's so funny, why don't you share it with the rest of us? So he did. Do Durante, the third-graders wailed. Hey, driver, does this bus go over the George Washington Bridge? [gravel voice] If it don't, we'll get awful wet. Bob Lloyd, V's All-America backcourt teammate at Rutgers, says rooming with him for two years was like "living with Henny Youngman."
Just as all the yuks have overshadowed his coaching abilities, his effervescence tended to obscure the young Valvano's athletic talents: all-Nassau County (Long Island) three-sport star at Seaford High; defensive stalwart and eighth-leading career scorer at Rutgers who once, on a night when Lloyd was injured, scored 38 points, and then in his swan song in 1967 made all-NIT. "I got in guys' jocks. I stuffed guys," says V. "No question." How did Wes Bialosuknia (Connecticut) get 51 and Jimmy Walker (Providence) get 58 off you, V? "Hey, you ever get writer's block? That's called a bad day. Two bad days. Bialosuknia was great-looking. I didn't know whether to guard him or ask him for a date."