RALEIGH There were a couple of moments Monday night at Reynolds Coliseum when Jim Valvano, his image projected large across a movie screen, hummed the tune of the N.C. State fight song. A crowd of several hundred clapped along a little bit, and yelled “go State” in unison, just like when Valvano coached games there.
ESPN hosted an advanced screening of the latest in its “30-for-30” documentary series. “Survive and Advance,” which is about more than just the run the 1983 Wolfpack made, premiers on the network at 9 p.m. Sunday.
For much of the film, most who came Monday sat in silence, watching. But cheers came when the Wolfpack beat North Carolina in the 1983 ACC tournament, and when Lorenzo Charles made that last-second dunk to beat Houston in the national championship game.
“It just brought tears to my eyes,” said Ernie Myers, one of several members of the ’83 team who came to the screening. “In Reynolds, it brought back so much. Just being in this place. We left a lot of blood, sweat and tears on these floors. …
“So to see it here in front of a lot of Wolfpack faithful … it’s just unbelievable for me.”
Pam Valvano Strasser, former wife of the late coach, sat in the front row. Cozell McQueen came back. So did Alvin Battle and George McClain and Tommy DiNardo – members, all, of that famed team. Myers was a freshman then, when he filled in for Dereck Whittenburg, who suffered a broken foot in a game at Reynolds Coliseum against Virginia.
Approaching the 30th anniversary of the championship, it was Whittenburg’s idea to make the documentary. He contacted Jonathan Hock, a New York-based director who also directed “The Best that Never Was” – the “30-for-30” that chronicled the story of one-time can’t-miss football prospect Marcus Dupree.
“It was important to me because of the impact and what the story tells people,” Whittenburg said of why doing the documentary was necessary. “We always talk about dreams and vision, but sometimes people don’t think they can come true.”
Valvano and his team proved they can, though. Hock – who knew Whittenburg from when he coached at Fordham – wanted to do the film as soon as Whittenburg pitched the idea. The two were planning a meeting about it early on when Charles died in a bus accident on Interstate 40 in June 2011.
The film isn’t just about N.C. State’s late-season run, but it’s also about the players’ relationships now, and how tragedy has shaped them. At one point, Whittenburg talks of telling his teammates they need to spend more time together – how if they don’t, they’ll only be coming together for their funerals. The film also details Valvano’s turmoil-filled final days at N.C. State, and the end of coaching career.
Valvano’s fight against cancer is another central theme, with the film alternating scenes depicting N.C. State’s run in ’83 and Valvano fighting for his life 10 years later. He died in April 1993, but not before he founded the Jimmy V Foundation for cancer research.
“We tried to sort of conflate the experience of Jimmy V fighting cancer with fighting for survival in the basketball sense during the final nine-game run through the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament,” Hock said. “… To go through that march of nine games, nine unbelievable games, knowing that the coach is doomed.
“… But the things that he used to keep them believing were the very same things he used to keep fighting cancer. And of course, that’s his great victory.”