It is not fair for me to review ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary, Survive and Advance. Even if director Jonathon Hock only looped Lorenzo Charles' game-winning dunk, I would have praised the film for its repetitive use of one of basketball's most memorable moments. Instead, Hock puts the viewer in the front seat of the roller coaster ride that was North Carolina Sate's flawed, chilling, and perfect 1983 NCAA Tournament. Mixing nostalgia and the late Jim Valvano's charisma with intense basketball scenes, Survive and Advance is the perfect retelling of one of the greatest sports stories ever.
Many of us have seen Lorenzo Charles' game-winning dunk and the memorable image of Jim Valvano running recklessly around the court looking for a hug from Dereck Whittenburg. It is a remarkable and vivid sight etched into the brains of many a college basketball fan. What many of us don't know, however, is that N.C. State's tournament run almost ended with each of the eight nail-biting games before the win over Houston.
Survive and Advance tells the story of the inspiring run by the "team of destiny" through game footage interspersed with a round table of the surviving team members, talking head interviews, and clips from the late Jim Valvano's motivational speeches.
“We have one practice every year where they come up on the court," Valavano says in a 1987 speech. "There’s no balls, there’s no drills, all we do is practice cutting the net down.”
Valvano knew how to captivate a crowd. Survive and Advance shows that he also knew how to captivate and motivate his team. He talked them into dreaming big, and then living those dreams out. By having his team practice cutting the nets down, it became something they expected to do. Amazingly, on April 4, 1983 in Albuquerque N.M., they performed what they practiced.
The interviews are insightful and unlike the fantastic "Fab Five" documentary in the same 30 For 30 series that failed to involve Chris Webber, Survive and Advance gets everyone necessary, even Hakeem Olajuwan from Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma to describe Charles' dunk.
The documentary has you on the edge of your seat for the duration. Even after showing the climactic dunk in the first scene of the film, the tension is palpable when the story returns to the 1983 National Championship Game.
Survive and Advance is one of the most powerful sports documentaries I have ever seen.
My brother's girlfriend recently read a story I wrote about growing up playing basketball in Michigan in the 1990s. In the story, I recall the time my 3-on-3 team lost a game and I went into the bathroom stall and cried. She said, "Liam, I liked your story. But as I was reading it, I thought, 'Huh, Liam cries a lot,'" and laughed at me. I had no comeback and responded that I was young.
She watched Survive and Advance with my brother on Sunday night. As the story finished, tears welled up in her eyes. I would have made fun of her, but I was holding back tears as well.
Jim Valvano and N.C. State's 1983 tournament run is a story of believing and dreaming. Survive and Advance is the perfect portrayal of Valvano, N.C. State, and a snapshot of what sports can mean.
Watch the trailer below, if you missed Survive and Advance, reruns are airing Monday, March 25 at 1 a.m. EDT on ESPN2 and Saturday March 30 at 5 p.m. on ESPN. You can also catch it on the Watch ESPN app at those times.