I FIRST watched ESPN’s SportsCenter as a teenaged kid back in 1997. The upshot of ESPN not broadcasting any India specific programming in the day time (except when there was live cricket on) was that we would get to see the 1am EST edition of the iconic sports news program and I was hooked from the start.
Not because I had a deep interest in American sport. Or because I had a deep fascination of sports news shows. Eventually, I would become interested in both and it would be a direct result of that afternoon. The reason I was hooked was because of one of the anchors that day on the show – Stuart Scott.
He was almost bouncing with energy as he cheered ‘Booyah’ while describing a home run in the baseball highlights round up. His infectious enthusiasm was easy to catch and soon I was dreaming of speaking on a sports program like Stuart Scott. Sports gives you many heroes. But it is not often that they are broadcasters with a degree in public speech.
Presenters are at best seen as armchair enthusiasts but watching Scott never felt like that. He lived the thrill of calling a game and bringing its highlights to you with zest and fervour, spiced up with his incomparable catchphrases and distinct hip hop vibe. Stuart Scott, for lack of a better word, was my hero.
But what is remarkable is how he became an even bigger hero post the 2007 diagnosis of cancer. He fought the disease with that same determination and good natured humor he brought to that iconic SportsCenter desk. He worked extensively to help people cope with the disease but refused to give up on life and to use a line he used at his very moving ESPYs speech last year ‘cry myself a pity party’.
He did not leave his first love – sports and broadcasting. We saw him behind the SportsCenter desk. Courtside at the NBA finals. Cheering his daughter on from the sidelines at a soccer game. All this with a zeal that belied the difficult treatments he was going through. In 2013, he had to be hospitalized during the NBA Finals when he was covering them. He vowed to be back and was there in June 2014 to usher the San Antonio Spurs as champions.
There is a lot of talk about living life to the fullest on and off the sports field; Stuart Scott was an embodiment of it. He did not let go or give up as he coped and was befittingly awarded the Jimmy Valvano perseverance award at the ESPYs in 2014. His acceptance speech was an incredibly touching assessment of his life and its altered dynamic after it was touched by cancer.
The line that stunned everyone first into silence and then heartfelt applause was this:
When you die it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.
He signed off that speech saying ‘Have a great rest of your life.’ The thing about that moment for me was how I had originally become a fan of Stuart Scott for very different reasons. I was awestruck by the bubbly, cocky and yet relatable self he put across on screen. He was, to borrow one of his own catchphrases “cooler than the other side of the pillow”.
But then in the face of unprecedented adversity, he became something even bigger. A true inspiration and a hero. Somebody who by his own admission lived by Jim Valvano’s (the coach & later ESPN broadcaster also succumbed to cancer and his foundation donates to cancer research) seven golden words ‘Never Give Up. Never Ever Give Up.’ uttered when Jimmy V got the Arthur Ashe courage award.
Now, every word of Scott’s own acceptance speech is golden in a Randy Pausch-esque way (yes, that Randy Pausch, he of The Last Lecture). Scott began that emotional speech with the words “Our life’s journey is really about the people that touch us.” And today, as I confront the sad reality that he is no longer amongst us I am truly glad that a quirk in network programming allowed my life to be touched by Stuart Scott.
There was a time when I just wanted to be Stuart Scott behind that SportsCenter desk. Now, I just want to be Stuart Scott.