One of college basketball’s most enduring voices had his moment in front of the camera Wednesday night. At this year’s ESPY Awards, longtime ESPN color commentator Dick Vitale accepted the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance. Following two cancer diagnoses last year, Vitale delivered an impassioned speech in which he thanked his supporters and called for continued cancer funding and research.

Named after basketball coach Jim Valvano, the Jimmy V Award has been presented every year since 2007 to honor someone in the sports community who has persevered through extraordinary challenges. After 33 years of coaching and an improbable NCAA Championship in 1983 with North Carolina State University, Valvano was diagnosed with cancer in 1992. His moving speech at the 1993 ESPYs, two months before his death, remains the defining moment in his many years as a public figure in sports. The V Foundation, established that same year, has since raised nearly $290 million for cancer research.

In his own speech Wednesday night, Vitale honored Valvano’s legacy as both a college basketball legend and an outspoken advocate for cancer fundraising. He recalled the 1993 ESPYs, during which Valvano implored Vitale to get him on the stage despite his failing health. It was the night Valvano went on to share his foundation’s indelible motto: “Don’t give up… don’t ever give up.”

“We got him on that stage and I was mesmerized, blown away, as he electrified the nation,” Vitale said. “And that speech … has created what we’re here today.”

Vitale also addressed his own experience with cancer and thanked his family, friends and ESPN for their loyalty and support. Following his initial diagnosis in August 2021 and a subsequent diagnosis in October, Vitale eventually had to step away from his color commentating duties in January 2022 in order to receive treatment. In April, he announced that he was cancer-free.

To conclude his speech, Vitale asked audience members to stand if they knew someone who had been diagnosed with cancer. No one remained seated, demonstrating Vitale’s point.

“Jimmy’s dream was to beat cancer, and we must do it because it doesn’t discriminate. It comes after all,” Vitale said.

The speech was as much an expression of gratitude as it was a call for further effort, as Vitale took care to commemorate Valvano, his longtime friend, while finding inspiration in his own experience. For a commentator typically associated with sporting crescendos and a handful of instantly recognizable phrases, his words Wednesday night were more deliberate but no less heartfelt.

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