Stuart Scott Memories

Confidence. When I hung up the phone after spending a half-hour talking with Stuart Scott for an Inside Carolina Magazine feature in 2009, that was his personality trait that left me shaking my head. Scott had a seemingly inexhaustible fund of self-belief in everything he did or said.

The conversational exchange that keeps pushing this quality forward in my mind was surely Scott's recollection of his tryout for the New York Jets as part of a feature for ESPN's NFL coverage. Scott was 36 years old and he had spent a day auditioning as a wide receiver.

To anyone else, this was clearly an exercise done for the television cameras to give viewers an idea of what the grueling experience of trying out for an NFL team entails. However for Scott, that wasn't the end of it. Among the eight receivers in camp, the Jets coaching staff had indicated to him that he had beaten out a receiver who genuinely hoped to make the squad.

This scant sliver of evidence somehow convinced the famous sportscaster that if he wanted to shift careers after three dozen years of life, he could suddenly suit up at perhaps the most athletic position in all of football and commence catching touchdowns in the NFL.

Who in their right mind would believe something so improbable? The answer is simple. It's the same guy who would believe that he could spring from North Carolina onto Orlando and then, in short order, head to ESPN and transform the entire lexicon of sports broadcasting. It's the same guy who, having achieved his dream job at ESPN, laid it all on the line when corporate management asked him to modify his style. He wasn’t going to change because he believed that he was right and that they were wrong. Such was the confidence of Stuart Scott.

When I chuckled a bit after he said he really believed he could have made the New York Jets, my laughter was interrupted quickly with, "You think I'm kidding?..." Pause… pause… pause. Dead silence. He wasn't kidding.

One of Scott's legacies that has rightfully been brought to the fore in the wake of his death is the belief that he gave voice on national sports television to a segment of the population that lacked a distinct beacon prior to his arrival.

This idea is correct. This idea shouldn't be disputed and in fact, this idea should be celebrated. But perhaps there is more. Maybe the idea is even bigger.

As part of the first generation nationally that grew up truly and legally integrated after the sweeping Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, scores of young people regardless of ethnic background joyously identified with what Scott was saying on SportsCenter. This assimilated generation held shared educational, musical and sporting experiences.

When Scott joined ESPN in 1993, the references he used in his highlight calls were borne out of those experiences and successfully connected for a huge swath of young people. Sure, it was new and fresh and that was part of the appeal, but his references weren't unfamiliar. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Stuart Scott was speaking a language we were all familiar with and, judging by the results, the message he brought to the airwaves resonated resoundingly.

In the days since the somber news of Scott's death was announced, Inside Carolina has spoken with a wide variety of broadcasters, athletes and television producers across the basketball landscape to document their memories of Scott and their thoughts on his impact.

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Kenny Smith knew Stuart Scott for a longer period of time than anyone we spoke with. They shared time together on campus at Chapel Hill and remained connected for the next 30 years.

On his favorite memories of Scott: "Stuart and I came in to college together in 1983 so I knew Stu pretty well through classes and through social functions. My best memory though - funniest memory - is of him dancing in Upendo Hall looking like he was on Soul Train. That's my first memory of Stu. I'm seeing it right now, he was up in Upendo Hall dancing doing the 'Roger Rabbit.'"

On his impact: "A lot of guys were doing what he was, but he added pop culture to it and made it relevant. He brought a younger audience, from 18-30 that kept the mute button on and only watched the highlights. It was like talking heads and he made us turn the volume up and listen."

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Like Scott, Ernie Johnson Jr. is a nationally famous sportscaster that has battled cancer. Johnson's relationship with Scott began as a series of emails as they mutually discussed and encouraged each other in their respective fights against the disease.

On his favorite memories of Scott: "What I think was very cool about him was that he was always asking 'how's the family doing? Let me tell you about how my family is doing,' and that was always on his mind. I think what is kind of gratifying when you read all the stuff on his passing is that so many folks are talking about how cool it was that he took his role as a dad so seriously and it was such a huge part of what he was because that is not always true for everybody that you talk about."

On his impact: "I remember when he started at ESPN and it always made you sit back from the set for a minute and say 'whoa, where's this guy coming from now?' and then the more you sat back and watched him you realized 'ok, that's the way he's going to do his thing' and I think what's good is that he knew that at first people were going to say 'that's not what I want' but that is who he was. If there is anything my dad ever taught me it was to be yourself and that was Stuart - he was being himself. I think he kind of broke the mold in that way, that you didn't have to do sports one way. He went beyond that. He said, 'this is the way I do it and here I go,' and more power to him. He broke the mold."

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Shaquille O'Neal and Dennis Scott met Stuart Scott while playing for the Orlando Magic. Scott was a local sportscaster prior to making the move to ESPN, but both players acknowledge that even before becoming nationally recognizable, Scott was quite memorable.

O'Neal on his favorite memories of Scott: "Stuart, myself and Dennis started off in Orlando and Stuart was the first guy I saw when I came off the plane. That was nice. We had a great relationship and I was also the first guy he told when he got the ESPN job. He had that style in Orlando, but Orlando wasn't big enough for him."

Dennis Scott on his favorite memories of Stuart Scott: "I met him when he was Stuart Scott in Orlando doing local NBC using the 'Booyah' and using all the other sayings that national television found out when ESPN gave him the platform. I knew him as a young guy believing in himself, believing in his craft and as a lover of sports and that's why the nation fell in love with him through the outlet of ESPN."

O'Neal on Scott's impact: "He was able to get people to watch it. I want to say he is the second guy to do that. For me, the first guy was Chris Berman with the 'back, back, back, back.' Stuart helped make the ESPN brand what it is today."

Dennis Scott on his favorite memories of Stuart Scott: He fits in that Al Maguire, Howard Cosell group. They had a certain style in how they called games and did their craft that no one else did and that's what made Stuart so special. He was so unique that people copied. When people are walking around saying 'Booyah,' you know you've made it and you've changed the culture."

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Marcus Ginyard came to UNC after being named Mr. Basketball in Virginia at Bishop O'Connell High School. Ginyard came to know Scott during Scott's visits to Chapel Hill highlighted by those times he hosted Late Night with Roy.

On Scott's impact: "He has been a great teacher to society, being such a public figure and sending a message that resounded with the people. We watched him fight with every ounce of energy in him, proving to everyone that nothing can hold you down, not even cancer. He stood strong until the end. He showed us that we can look any obstacle in our life face to face and decide that we will win, no matter how large the obstacle."

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Kyle Montgomery is a host for Los Angeles Clippers basketball and also covers the NFL for the NFL Network. Montgomery is part of a wave of talented, young African-American sportscasters that were influenced by Scott and are now carving out their own niche in the industry.

On his favorite memories of Scott: The first time I met Stu was at NBA All-Star weekend in 2009 and I rarely get star struck, but I was like a deer in headlights when I saw him up close. I didn't know what to say except 'I'm a big fan. Do you mind taking a picture with me?' And to my surprise he said to me,'I know who you are. I've seen you on NBA TV, right?' I was floored. Stu Scott had seen my work and actually thought I didn't suck. It absolutely made my weekend."

On his impact: "I will remember him as a trailblazer especially for young black broadcasters from an urban background. His courage to ignore the status quo staying true to himself allowed a young poor kid from the hood in Kansas City to also have the courage to comfortably talk about sports in front of an audience that, in large part, did not look like him or in many ways relate to him."

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Deaton Bell is a 1990 graduate of the University of North Carolina who worked as a production assistant for ESPN2 when Stuart Scott arrived at the network.

On his favorite memories of Scott: "We are both Tar Heels so it was nice to start out with that common ground. I was the original production assistant on a portion of ESPN2 called 'Sports Smash' and Stuart was one of the original anchors. He was always confident and he was becoming the anchor that would blossom on SportsCenter. I think in all the tributes we've seen over the past few days, that approach to presentation and personality - well, we got to see that take shape in those early days."

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