ESPN legend Stuart Scott would have been 55 today. His early career came through Orlando at the perfect time

click to enlarge ESPN legend Stuart Scott would have been 55 today. His early career came through Orlando at the perfect time
Screenshot via WESH
Sunday, July 19, would have been the 55th birthday of Stuart Scott, the legendary ESPN anchor who became a sports-television star before his untimely death from appendix cancer at age 49.

A favorite of presidents, superstar athletes and young fans, Scott was an ever-present part of sports TV between 1993 and 2015, spending 21 years at ESPN and changing the way the network, and sports television, sounded. By 2008, Scott was a major player, featured in dozens of SportsCenter commercials and leading ABC's coverage of the NBA.

His catch phrases gained him widespread attention but his coverage of the 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Olympics is what really awakened audiences to his journalism. Colleagues who once pushed back at his use of his contemporary vernacular (what some call AAVE) could only stare in awe at his fame with young viewers.

"People didn't know what to make of him when he first started here," said ESPN executive Mark Gross. "The company's only, what, 13, 14 years old? We'd never heard 'boo-yah.'"

But just before he was "as cool as the other side of the pillow," Scott spent a handful of years in the City Beautiful, and at one of its most interesting periods in sports history.

Those who lived in (through?) Orlando in the '90s will remember Scott from his handful of years at Orlando's WESH-TV Channel 2, where he brightened local airwaves with his energetic, big-league-sized coverage of our comparatively middling, middle-market sport scene at the time.

From 1990 until 1993, Scott worked at the NBC affiliate as a sports reporter and sports anchor. In 1992, another big man, Shaquille O'Neal, moved to town, dominating the Orlando Magic court until 1996, until making the jump, three years after Scott, to even larger audiences. For Scott, the Shaq spotlight meant even more time on camera.

While he was working at at WESH, he met young ESPN producer Gus Ramsey, who later said of Scott: "You knew the second he walked in the door that it was a pit stop, and that he was gonna be this big star somewhere someday. He went out and did a piece on the rodeo, and he nailed it just like he would nail the NBA Finals for ESPN."

Scott even earned first place honors from the Central Florida Press Club for his feature on rodeo.
In a 2009 interview with the Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi, where Bianchi noted Scott and Shaq both left Orlando at the same time for "bigger and better," Scott disagreed, responding, "I'm not going to say it's bigger or better; it's just different. It's ESPN, but I don't see ESPN as bigger or better than Orlando.

"Living here was a stage of my life that I loved and I'll never forget. Orlando is my favorite place I've ever lived," Scott said. "ESPN is in Connecticut. I love my job, but I'd rather live in Orlando. I don't like cold weather."

According to Bianchi, Orlando was where Scott bought his first home, proposing to his wife, Kim, at Lake Eola Park.

While in Orlando, Scott was already a bold, standout talent. He approached ESPN anchor Chris Berman at Super Bowl XXV in 1991 and said, "I hope to be working with you at your network someday."

Berman later said, "I looked him in the eye and I said, 'We will save you a seat.'"

Upon his passing, Scott was remembered by his WESH colleague Pat Clarke, who said, "What he may have absorbed here in Orlando, he perfected in Bristol."

Scott's final public appearance, to accept the Jimmy V Award at the 2014 Espys, is still a great watch, and a summary of the man's character. It's a tear-jerker:

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