Every single time Stuart Scott hosted Late Night with Roy Williams, you knew it was coming. You didn’t know exactly when, or exactly what might prompt it, but at some point, you knew the ESPN anchor would walk to center court at the Smith Center, and that’s when you would see exactly who he really was.
That’s when Scott would usually reach down, touch the interlocking “NC” at midcourt, and say, “This is what it’s all about. This right here. It’s on the floor, it’s on your shirt, and it’s in your heart.”
Scott made it obvious at every opportunity that it was in his heart, too. Too much attention was paid to the way he talked. Nationally, maybe people knew him because he said “Booyah!” or because he had some cool turns of a phrase. Here in Chapel Hill, we knew him because he was a Tar Heel, because he felt the exact same way about this place that we did…and because he went on to do things around the world and seeing the biggest stories in sports never changed his opinion that Chapel Hill was home.
He attended the first game in the Smith Center, a 1986 battle against Duke, as a fan. He was there when Maryland and Len Bias defeated the Tar Heels later that same season. “Bias torched us,” he said with a shake of his head 20 years later, as if the pain of the defeat was still fresh.
He’d grown up in Winston-Salem pretending to be Phil Ford. Scott and his brother would cut the bottom out of a Carolina cup and tape it to the top of a doorway. They’d wrap a napkin in aluminum foil and play entire make-believe games in which they filled the roles of the complete Carolina roster. Ford, unfailingly, was the high scorer.
Scott’s sister met Ford on campus in the late 1970s. “My brother Stuart cried when you lost to Marquette in the 1977 championship game,” she told him.
“I did, too,” Ford said, and you got the feeling that wasn’t the only time that Stuart Scott and Phil Ford had shared the same passion for the University of North Carolina.
“No matter where you go, no matter where you’ve been, when you go home, it touches your heart,” Scott said during a recent Late Night visit. “When you go to school here, 25 or 30 years later you are still a Tar Heel. You meet a Tar Heel anywhere in the world and there’s an immediate, ‘Hey, you went to Carolina!’ connection.”
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