Stuart Scott, the longtime “SportsCenter” anchor and ESPN personality known for his enthusiasm and ubiquity, died Sunday. He was 49.
Scott, a Chicago native, had fought cancer since a diagnosis in late 2007, the network said, but remained dedicated to his craft even as he underwent chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
ESPN president John Skipper said in a statement that Scott was “a true friend and a uniquely inspirational figure” and that his “energetic and unwavering devotion to his family and to his work while fighting the battle of his life left us in awe, and he leaves a void that can never be replaced.”
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SportsCenter fans are familiar with Scott’s signature catchphrases, as well as the hip-hop and pop culture references he’d drop into his commentary during his 20-plus years at ESPN.
But Chicago-area native and Big Ten Network commentator Mike Hall says it was how Scott treated people behind the scenes that made him develop a deep respect for the man, who was a mentor when Hall worked at ESPN.
“I’m a nobody, and he’s at the peak of his profession, taking time out of his day to talk to me,” Hall said. “In the industry you can find a lot of higher- and lower-status people. He didn’t treat anyone who was a low-status person like a low-status person.”
In 2004, Hall was the winner of ESPN’s reality TV show “Dream Job,” securing an on-air role with the cable sports giant.
Hall, who was raised in Glen Ellyn, first met Scott at the show’s Chicago regional finals. As Hall worked his way through the show’s multiple rounds, the two bonded over a shared Chicago connection and chatted about the White Sox, Bulls and Bears.
“I was a 21-year-old, randomly auditioning for the show. This guy I looked up to comes up to me, for no reason, and said ‘I believe in you,” said Hall, now 32. “He grabbed me by the arm, pulled me aside. He said, ‘You are my pick … keep doing what you’re doing — you’re gonna be great.’”
During one segment of the show — a round where contestants were expected to give a two-minute recitation on why they should win — Hall brought a guitar.
Performing a tongue-in-cheek number on a fictional underperforming Little League team managed by disgraced baseball star Pete Rose, Hall needed an improv cue from the audience on why the team was bad.
Scott irreverently shouted out, “They’re all addicted to crack,” Hall said.
“It was — first off — so funny, but also just what I needed,” Hall said.
Even after leaving ESPN to return home to Chicago as a broadcaster for the Big Ten Network, Hall kept in touch.
“I won’t remember him for cancer. I will remember him for the way he lived, which is what he wanted. And I’ll remember him for how kind he was to people,” Hall said.
Scott accepted the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPYs in July. During his speech, he told his teenage daughters: “Taelor and Sydni, I love you guys more than I will ever be able to express. You two are my heartbeat. I am standing on this stage here tonight because of you.”
After Scott’s family moved away from Chicago, he attended high school in North Carolina. After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1987, Scott worked at three TV stations in the southern U.S. before joining ESPN for the 1993 launch of its ESPN2 network. He often anchored the 11 p.m. “SportsCenter,” where he would punctuate emphatic highlights with “Boo-ya!” or note a slick move as being “as cool as the other side of the pillow.”
Throughout his career he also made clear he was from Chicago.
“He’d say ‘Chi City, that’s my home.’ He was very proud of where he was from,” Hall said.
Scott went on to cover countless major events for the network, including the Super Bowl, NBA finals, World Series and NCAA Tournament. He also interviewed President Barack Obama, joining him for a televised game of one-on-one. In 2001, Scott returned to Chapel Hill as the university’s commencement speaker.
Scott was first diagnosed with cancer in November 2007 after he had to leave the “MondayNight Football” game between Miami and Pittsburgh to have his appendix removed. Doctors discovered a tumor during surgery. He underwent chemotherapy again in 2011.
Scott made a point of continuing to live his life — at work and outside of it.
“Who engages in mixed martial arts training in the midst of chemotherapy treatments?” Skipper said in ESPN’s statement. “Who leaves a hospital procedure to return to the set?”
Scott is survived by his parents, O. Ray and Jacqueline Scott; siblings Stephen Scott, Synthia Kearney and Susan Scott; his daughters Taelor, 19, and Sydni, 15; and girlfriend Kristin Spodobalski.
As he accepted the award named for former N.C. State coach Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993, Scott noted: “When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer.
“You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live,” Scott said. “So live. Live. Fight like hell.”