If you are a sports fan who grew up watching or listening to sports, you’ve no doubt had a broadcaster or play by play announcer who impacted how you hear and see sports today. Vin Scully. Harry Carey. Pat Summerall and John Madden. Howard Cosel. Bob Uecker. Bob Costas, sometimes with Bob Uecker and Howard Cosel. For me, one of those iconic voices was Stuart Scott. He started at SportsCenter in 1993 when I was a kid living on a sports island in our little state. Situated in the upper midwest, we got the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos and Nebraska Cornhuskers games. As I got older and our cable provider expanded, we also got TBS and WGN so we also got to see most of the Braves and Cubs games. When the Colorado Rockies expanded into the MLB, we got them too. NBA games were on sporadically. NFL was on Mondays and Sundays. Saturday was the Huskers and Notre Dame and on occasion, one or two other games. I don’t think I saw a hockey game until I was in junior high school. There was no Sunday Ticket, no Center Ice. National TV deals were a decade away. I had never even heard of the Internet and if I was talking to my friend on the phone, I had to step around the corner becuase our phones still had cords on them. If you wanted to know what was happening outside of our regional sports bubble, SportsCenter was the only way to know. Every night, after the Twins were over, my dad would flip to SportsCenter and we would catch up on how the rest of the world was going. And it was good television. There was Rich and Stuart and Keith and Dan. And they did it all, from sideline interviews to studio segments and anything in between. At the young age I was, I didn’t appreciate what a trailblazing moment I was witnessing; a young black man sitting among the white men. What I did know was he made me laugh. You had to pay attention to Stuart Scott because he would throw one liners out at rapid fire pace and leave you laughing so hard you might miss the next play. And there were no DVR’s so if you missed something you wanted to see, you had to sit through the next hour in order to catch it. And that was fine, because Rich Eisen and Stuart Scott together was pure television gold.
Over the years, Stuart Scott interviewed the who’s who of the sporting world, from Tiger Woods to Michael Jordan to his annual tradition of presenting the NBA Championship trophy at the end of the NBA Finals. Some of the most iconic interviews in sports history were done with Stuart Scott sitting across the table. As quick witted as he was on the set of SportsCenter, he was equally as kind and compassionate when dealing with the tricky issues of the day. To that end, his kindness and compassion always felt genuine. He was one of those guys you could see hanging out in a backyard, beer in hand, listening as intently to a friend as he did to Tiger Woods and you never doubted that image. When he gave his instantly iconic and legendary speech at the 2014 ESPY awards after being presented the Jimmy V Award, his speech solidified that image in my mind. He almost didn’t make the trip to accept the award and when he stood, I was shocked at how frail and thin he looked. As he approached the stage, I remember hoping that his smooth voice didn’t sound as weak as he looked. How selfish of me, this courageous man who literally used every ounce of strength he had for those 10 minutes and it was I who was worried about it not sounding right. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, my friends. Any fear I had was dashed the moment he opened his mouth. The words he spoke are going to live on, much like the words of the awards namesake, Coach Jimmy Valvano. That speech will remain a part of sports history forever, long after the memorials are over, after the tears are wiped away and yes, as his memory begins to fade. If you haven’t seen the speech, it’s everywhere on YouTube right now. And you owe it to yourself, even if this is the first you’ve ever heard of Stuart Scott, you owe it to yourself to watch it. The honesty and genuineness with which he speaks, the way he refers to his young daughters and the way he conducted himself, presumably in the face of death, is a testament to how he truly loved life. Hearing the news Sunday morning was like finding out I had lost an old friend.
Maybe this eulogy of someone I’ve never met is a little on the creeper side. I get it. I struggled with whether I should write this entry or not. But in a way, I grew up with Stuart Scott. He’s part of some of my favorite sports memories over the years. And some of my favorite childhood memories, sprawled out on the floor with my dad, peppering him with sports questions until bedtime. And, if we missed one of those famous one liners, sometimes well AFTER bedtime! Perhaps I’m hypersensitive to this because it comes on the heels of losing my brother in law just 2 weeks ago, ironically at almost the exact same age of Stuart Scott, at 48. He too leaves young children along with 2 grandchildren. He was one of the people in this world to whom I was closest and his death has hit me hard. So, I can’t explain why I chose to write this. I know this much: Life is bigger than sports. Nobody personified that better than Stuart Scott. I will miss his voice, his wit and his ability to make me laugh. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow.