This column originally appeared on Real Money Pro at 8:36 a.m. EDT on April 8.NEW YORK ( Real Money) --
"If you laugh, you think and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special." -- Jim Valvano, coach of the 1983 North Carolina State basketball teamTonight the Michigan Wolverines face the Louisville Cardinals in the NCAA men's basketball tournament final in Atlanta. March Madness is my favorite sporting event of the year. I have the most precious memories traveling with my youngest son to semifinal weekends and to Monday's finals. Our trips to the NCAA tournament have, in part, defined my relationship with him. But this morning, my thoughts are on another game and that speech. Both can provide us with important life and investing lessons.
"We were such underdogs that even my mother took the Houston Cougars and gave the points." -- Jim ValvanoThat game took place 34 years ago tomorrow in 1983. In that game (the NCAA finals), a seemingly outmanned N.C. State Wolfpack (Sir Denny Gartman's team and alma mater!) faced the Houston Cougars who were led by two future NBA Hall of Famers in Hakeem "the Dream" Olajuwon and Clyde "the Glide" Drexler. Houston finished the regular season as the top team in the country and were collectively known as " Phi Slama Jama," so named for the fast-paced showmanship of their game. Going into the championship game, Olajuwon boldly predicted "the team with the most dunks will win." Though only a No. 6 seed in their regional bracket, N.C. State Wolfpack was hardly a team of nobodies at No. 16 in the nation. It took an impressive late-season streak just to get them to that ranking, however, and nobody thought they had a chance against Houston (which had won 26 games going into the game against N.C. State). So it was quite a shock to see Lorenzo Charles dunk the winning two points in the last second of the game, and I will never forget Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano running around like a chicken with its head cut off. And, oh, that speech (at the 1993 ESPY Awards) that Jim Valvano gave just eight weeks before he died of cancer. I still cry every time it is repeated on ESPN, as it is being broadcast now, on Sunday morning, as I write this missive. James Thomas Anthony Valvano was the mischievous middle son born to Rocco and Angela. When he was 17 years old he wrote down on an index card his professional aspirations. He would play basketball in high school (he did at Seaford High School in Long Island) and college (he did at Rutgers), become an assistant basketball coach (he did at Connecticut) then a head coach (his first head coach position was at Johns Hopkins, then at Bucknell and Iona), achieve victory in Madison Square Garden (he did while at Rutgers) and finally cut down the nets after winning a National Championship (he did with N.C. State).