My 2 Minutes with ESPN Icon, Stuart Scott

In the late 90’s, I was living in Manhattan. One night found me walking down the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden; something I did hundreds of times previously as a sports advertising executive at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

Coming towards me one evening, during the 1998 NBA All-Star game festivities, was the man who many felt was singularly responsible for making sports cool on TV. He was well known at the time although his fame and impact would skyrocket in the decade after.

Never afraid to approach celebrities, I walked directly to Stuart Scott, and he couldn’t have been more gracious; looking me in the eye and shaking my hand. I told him how much I admired him on SportsCenter and to “Keep making us proud”.  He was very appreciative and gave me a few minutes of chatter, despite the mini chaos surrounding his being in the general public hallway.

I’ve been around or met numerous celebrities, but rarely found the need to share my appreciation of their work. With Scott, I felt I had too. He was an original from the start and always seemed to be having massive fun on the air; a combination not often seen and one I admire.

When he first hit the TV screen in the mid 90’s, there was nobody close in style or presence. There were interesting people doing sports on TV, but nobody like him. On SportsCenter, his ‘Urban Cool’ and ‘Hip Hop inspired Delivery” was something to behold. Whether one liked him or not, his boldness in doing the show his way was undeniable.

He was a trailblazer and Stan Verrett, who worked with Scott, said this about his path: "He did not shy away from the fact that he was a black man, and that allowed the rest of us who came along to just be ourselves." 

While many sports fans enjoyed him on TV right away (like me), I remember thinking at the time, that his style could turnoff or offend some viewers. I give ESPN a lot of credit for hiring someone so different than the norm, although it surely was a big risk.

In the beginning, Scott received hate mail, although some of his former colleagues admitted that it never affected his work or desire to stay true to himself. Once Twitter became popular, he would share some of the hate tweets that came his way. He wasn’t shy in responding to the haters, although he usually did so in a respectful, positive or funny manner, which probably infuriated them even more.

Not surprisingly to me, Scott was a big hit on ESPN, despite the early grievances. The hip hop generation was blooming (and would explode) and that market loved him. He took ESPN to another level. What might have gone missing when we heard his “BOYAA” description of a play or his cool references from popular songs, is that he was a very good sports announcer.  The substance of his delivery was fact-filled and enlightening. I did my best to see his 11:00pm SportsCenter whenever I could.

Scott died on Sunday January 4, 2014. It was a sad day for me and many in my inner circle, as he had a big impact on how we digested sports. In addition, many top celebrities (inside and outside of sports) displayed incredible affection and love for him. Many of his ESPN colleagues brought tears to my eyes, when they so eloquently talked about what he meant to them, sports fans and ESPN.

His former co-anchor gave this touching tribute (Rich Eisen on Scott) on live TV:

Even President Obama released a statement:

“I will miss Stuart Scott. Twenty years ago, Stu helped usher in a new way to talk about our favorite teams and the day’s best plays. For much of those twenty years, public service and campaigns have kept me from my family – but wherever I went, I could flip on the TV and Stu and his colleagues on SportsCenter were there. Over the years, he entertained us, and in the end, he inspired us – with courage and love. Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to his family, friends, and colleagues.”

He was only 49, yet according to many who knew him, packed more fun, sizzle and joy into those years than most do in a lifetime. He inspired me, including the public and courageous way he fought his cancer.

RIP Stuart Scott. After a hard day at work, there were few things more satisfying than watching you light up the TV screen at 11pm. Thank you.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

 In the early days with Rich Eisen

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