In my junior year of high school, before it was easy to download files from the Internet, I waited for the Cleveland Plain Dealer to circulate an all-important, all-consuming resource: the 1995-1996 NBA regular season schedule. I was determined to watch every Chicago Bulls game that season, and the Plain Dealer listed every game in one handy calendar.
When the calendar arrived, I cut out the Bulls portion and kept it near the TV. I watched every home game on WGN and most away games on TNT. I circled the schedule after each game, wrote down the score, and if the Bulls won, I highlighted the date in yellow. That season the Bulls won an NBA-record 72 regular season games, and I watched almost every one of them.
Since I wanted to see an infinite number of Michael Jordan highlights, I began to watch ESPN SportsCenter just about every day. To me the anchors at ESPN captured the excitement I felt when I watched Michael and the Bulls. They were funny, enthusiastic, creative, and polished. They came up with a new show every morning and every night, and it was if they were writing a comedy script and news article at the same time. I couldn’t understand how they did it so well and so often, so I decided to ask them directly.
At the time ESPN’s website had only a few pages, and it only listed a single email address for the entire SportsCenter staff. Email was a new phenomenon, but I figured someone at corporate headquarters might get the note and send a canned response. I asked if the anchors wrote their own material, or whether they had a group of people helping them. Later that day, to my great surprise, one of the anchors replied to me personally. I remember two sentences he wrote: “We consider writing to be a core responsibility for everyone at ESPN. As anchors, each of us writes our own copy for every show.”
I share this exchange for a few reasons. First, it gave me a higher level of respect for SportsCenter anchors, and a greater appreciation for the challenge of creating a new episode every day. Second, it increased my admiration for anyone writing for television or under a deadline, especially journalists. And third, it taught me about the importance of writing as a career skill.
But above all, I share this exchange because it reminds me of the times I was watching Michael Jordan highlights in high school, and listening to Stuart Scott. Stuart was the best anchor and most creative voice at ESPN. His commentary always made a simple game seem larger than life. Stuart died today, but he showed us how to beat life’s toughest opponent: by the manner in which you live. I’m not sure if ESPN anchors still write their own copy today, but I know we can all learn from the way Stuart did it: his own way, in his own voice, with his own hands.