It’s the summer of 1998…
Michael Jordan had just hit his last shot to clinch another triumvirate of NBA Championships, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa exchanged salvos of home runs on a nightly basis, and Tiger Woods’ ascendancy was just about to take off. I was about to turn nine years old and busy learning as much about sports, all of them, as much as I could. The Yankees lured me in with a World Series victory in 1996, and were head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league by the time I had finished school. That summer, a new fixture of my morning routine came into being. I would wake up, usually first in my so that I could control the TV, and put on ESPN to find out what I had missed. 10 o’clock bed times made it difficult to keep track of everything. Watching SportsCenter made it easier.
In the days before high-speed internet, watching sports highlights was appointment viewing. If you missed a segment, you had to wait for the next re-run of SportsCenter to air. You had to tune in, but you also wanted to tune in.
It was the glory days of ESPN’s premier program. Before the days of live shows throughout the day, and highlights taking a backseat to talking heads, SportsCenter showed highlights, maybe an interview or a profile segment, highlights, and more highlights. The voice behind so many of them was Stuart Scott.
I can’t remember the first time I watched SportsCenter; the summer of 1998 has become blurry to this 25 year old. I can remember that Scott’s voice resonated throughout it. He, along with Linda Cohen, Dan Patrick, Kenny Mayne, and Rich Eisen were the soundtrack for my mornings. Each of them left their own, great mark on the program, but no one seemed to have more fun doing it than Scott.
“Booyah!” were the words every kid screamed during touch-football during recess. Stuttering out “wha- what happened” became a go-to phrase when your friend did something stupid. He was the co-writer of many of the lunch-table discussions that my friends and I would have about sports.
Looking back at old clips of Stuart Scott’s highlight reads, the one thing I notice now that I didn’t notice when I was a child was the quality of his writing. From my own experiences of writing highlight copy, it’s the anchor’s most important job of a newscast. You want to explain without being too wordy; time is precious when you’re on-air. You want to write it almost as if it were a speech, so that it’s easy for the words to flow out. Scott is at his absolute best with this highlight read from 2014.
After the initial love affair of ESPN had burned out of me, it became “cool” to hate on ESPN. The more I paid attention to television broadcasts, the more I noticed its flaws. It’s a news program, catchphrases have no place, I reasoned. I spent more time watching ESPN News than SportsCenter. Indeed, this thought process was initially what made Scott such a personalty whom the audience either loved or hated. Scott’s use of pop culture, often times hip-hop culture references made him a subject of telejournalistic debate. Would the audience buy into it?
The answer was the Scott, along with ESPN, didn’t care.
He continued having fun while he covered sports, from Monday Night Football, to the NBA Finals.
It did not matter who loved him or who hated him. He was gold for ESPN, and well loved by every personality to have worked with him. He was a father to two daughters, the oldest of whom is only 19. That made dealing with cancer all the worse for Scott.
Originally diagnosed back in 2007, he thought that he had beaten the disease after surgery and chemotherapy. It returned in 2011. Again he conquered. I remember being in my Oswego dorm room with my best friends early on one weekend morning when we found out that he was undergoing treatment again in early 2013.
This past July was special for Scott, who gave an emotional speech at the ESPY Awards. “When you die, it does not mean you lose to cancer,” an emotional Scott told the audience. “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.”
Stuart Scott was arguably ESPN’s most widely known personality, and for a good reason. He represented what the network was before it became the “worldwide leader.” He was about showcasing Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, and Tom Brady; not arguing about whose legacy is better than whose. He is the voice of home run highlights; not the voice of a talk show wondering if those home runs should count in the record books. Stuart Scott reminded us all that sports could still be fun.