It feels like a dream to hold a conversation with Stuart Scott. The popular ESPN analyst possesses such a stand-out voice, hearing him respond to my questions was like winning a championship. Watching him on the daily sports news broadcast SportsCenter has been a part of my life for a number of years, actually alluding to Scott just how many may not have been the best idea. Having asked him how it feels knowing I’d been watching him since my early youth, he deadpans, “Why are you calling me an old man?”
After chuckling for a second Scott tells a funny story of another time attention was called to his age. “This guy walks up, he’s probably 23 years old, and he says, ‘Man, I was watching you when I was in the 3rd and 4th grade.’ He’s got this big smile on his face, and all I wanted to do was put him in a rear naked chokehold and tap him out! I’m like, dude, why are you doing this to me?”
Throughout his career Stuart Scott has engaged in conversations with a number of persons, especially famous sports figures. The North Carolina native and University of North Carolina graduate has had the pleasure of becoming acquaintances with several of these popular, even legendary, athletes. But who has left the biggest impression on him? Find out in this SoulTrain.com exclusive!
SoulTrain.com: Being from North Carolina, do you often think about all the sports history–from basketball to professional wrestling–that comes from that area?
Stuart Scott: I think about it some. I’m more of a nostalgic person than not.
SoulTrain.com: Are you at all fascinated by sports legends and fellow Carolinians like 16-time world champion Ric Flair and six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan?
Stuart Scott: I remember about a decade ago at a golf tournament I met Ric Flair. And he knew who I was, and that just blew me away. There are so many athletes that I meet. A lot of the guys I know now. When I mention some of the people I’ve met to the younger generation, they’re like, “That’s so cool!” But to me they’re my peers. If they’re good guys, they’re good guys.
SoulTrain.com: I’ve read people describe Flair as one of the good guys, so what makes him different from anyone else to you?
Stuart Scott: When Ric Flair walked up to me and said, “Hey Stuart Scott, I love your work,” I got excited! Even though I’m an adult Ric Flair came from my childhood. I used to love when Ricky Steamboat would beat him down.
SoulTrain.com: A lot of fans share that same love with you. Do you ever think about some of the great basketball that’s happened in North Carolina, especially classic Duke vs. UNC games?
Stuart Scott: I do think about that. But some of the best basketball I ever saw…nobody else saw this because it wasn’t public.
SoulTrain.com: Really? What types of games were these, and where did they take place?
Stuart Scott: Every year in the fall semester all the Carolina guys would come back and play pick-up ball against each other–Al Wood, Walter Davis, James Worthy, Kenny Smith, Michael Jordan. There would be all these current Carolina players, including MJ my freshman year at UNC, and all these guys who are in the pros. They just came back and played pick-up ball. It was ridiculous!
SoulTrain.com: I bet! Did Michael Jordan capture your imagination as much as Flair did?
Stuart Scott: It’s a completely different ball game for me with Michael. He’s one of the fellas. When Michael retired, I said, “Cool.” I’m not one of those guys who thinks this athlete should retire or this athlete shouldn’t. Everyone said Brett Favre should retire. Brett Favre should do whatever he wants to do. Michael retired: his decision. If he’s at peace with it, I’m at peace with it. His retirement didn’t affect me. But Ric Flair is in the category of people I’ve met that I was awestruck by.
SoulTrain.com: Who else do you put in that category?
Stuart Scott: At the top of the list: Muhammad Ali. Again, this comes from my childhood. I’ve seen Muhammad Ali four or five times. Every time I’m just noodle-legged. I’m goo. When my oldest daughter was 1 ½ years old I took her to New York. Ali was doing a meet-and-greet there. I saw Howard Bingham, Ali’s personal photographer. He knew who I was. He said, come on up here. I took my daughter and I put her in Muhammad’s hands, and stood back and squeezed about 15 seconds of video of Muhammad Ali holding my daughter. I remember thinking, ‘I can die Lord; you can take me!’ because Muhammad Ali was a hero when I was a child.
SoulTrain.com: Did anyone else from your childhood cause the same type of reaction you experienced with Flair and Ali?
Stuart Scott: Dr. J (Julius Erving) was the same way. He’s a friend of mine now, but the first time he walked up and spoke to me I lost my mind. I was nuts about Phil Ford growing up, still the greatest point guard in ACC history. We’re friendly now. Every time I see him I tell him the same story: I was almost 12, Marquette beat North Carolina in the National Championship game in 1977. My oldest sister went to UNC. She knew Phil. So when Marquette won I cried like a baby! My sister told him, “My little brother cried when you all lost.” And Phil said, “Hell, I cried!” Guys like that are my sports heroes.
SoulTrain.com: Ric Flair is one of my sports heroes, too. Growing up I was really into improv and hip-hop, and I think he’s one of the best improvisational performers ever. Listening to the witty comments coming off the top of Flair’s head was mesmerizing.
Stuart Scott: Watching him wrestle was the same way. He’d always beg for mercy down on his knees with his hands up then he’d punch the guy in the crotch. I loved when he’d get thrown into the turnbuckle and he’d turn a flip and land on top of the turnbuckle.
SoulTrain.com: Okay Stuart, let me get this straight. Michael Jordan’s retirement from the NBA was not a big deal for you, but watching Ric Flair walk away was?
Stuart Scott: The things that I go “oooo ahhh” about are not things people would think I’d go “oooo ahhh” about. Jordan is different than Ric Flair. I went to school with Michael. Mike is the greatest basketball player to ever live but he’s also a peer. I like him personally because I’ve known him since 1983. As a guy, as one of the dudes, he’s always been a funny, down-to-earth guy. He likes to crack jokes. I respect the fact that he is the greatest basketball player who was ever seen. But I’ve never been in awe of Michael Jordan. I’ve been in awe of a lot of the things he’s done on the court, but Michael Jordan is not Ric Flair to me.
For more on Stuart Scott visit www.ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @StuartScott.
–Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and feature writer for City Locs, is an award-winning entertainment and news journalist and columnist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Former Editor In Chief of XPOZ Magazine, his work has graced the pages and covers of Notion Magazine, Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper, Real Detroit Weekly, and MLive.com. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker. Also visit MrJoeWalker.blogspot.com and Facebook.com/ByMrJoeWalker.