Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ex-Pistons Coach Scott Still Giving Back To Detroit

The facial hair is a white, bushy beard now -- no longer a sleek, jet-black Fu Manchu. But the height is still there -- you're always 6'9" once you reach that high -- and so is the barrel-chested laugh.

Ray Scott hasn't coached the Pistons in thirty years. He hasn't been on the Eastern Michigan University sidelines calling plays in over twenty-five. But he is no less a part of Detroit's rich sports landscape.

Scott, 67, is a new board member for the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame (MSHOF). He was at the Hall's new temporary-maybe-permanent home at the First National Building yesterday, the marvelous downtown location overlooking Campus Martius. He was there, along with a few other Hall members -- Lem Barney, Ron Kramer, and Ray Lane -- helping to promote not only the Hall's vision, but also to lend support to Emanuel Steward in the legendary boxing trainer's mission in keeping the equally legendary Kronk Recreation Center humming along.

And Scott made it clear that once Detroit gets in your blood, you can't get it out. Not that he'd want to, anyway.

"I came here in 1961 and y'all haven't kicked me out yet," Scott said with a typically big chortle. "But you (attendees of yesterday's luncheon) might not know that I've been here that long because I played for the Pistons." Then it was our turn for chortling.

"I am a Detroiter. Emanuel (Steward) and I practically grew up together as kids."


Ray Scott -- South Philly kid
turned Detroiter


Scott played for the Pistons from 1961-66, and a few more seasons with the old Baltimore Bullets. And he could fill it up. Scott averaged between 13.3 and 17.9 PPG in his five full seasons in Detroit. He was an athletic forward who could score and rebound. In 1963-64, Scott averaged over 13 boards per game. With the Bullets in '67-68, Scott averaged nearly 14 RPG.

But it was Ray Scott, the coach, that I remember vividly. Scott was just the second coach in franchise history (Butch van Breda Kolff was the first) who had the skill and moxie to guide the Pistons to a record in which their wins outnumbered their losses. The '73-74 Pistons rode in at 52-30, and Scott was named NBA Coach of the Year.

When I saw Scott yesterday at the luncheon -- a Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association affair combined with the Hall's announcements -- I told him that I cried for his team in the 1974 playoffs. The Pistons lost a brutal, angry seven-game series to the Chicago Bulls in the first round. The Pistons weren't done until the final inbounds pass of Game 7, with just seconds to play and the Pistons trailing by one. But David Bing's throw-in was batted away by Dennis Awtrey. Game over. Series over. Season over.

And the tears flowed; not just for 10 year-old Greg Eno, but for Ray Scott's grown-up Pistons players.

"Yeah, we cried, too," Scott said when I told him of my crying jag. "We got beat by Clifford Ray (the Bulls center), who had 19 points and 23 rebounds.

"And Clifford Ray was not a big scorer," Scott said. It's true. Clifford Ray was a big, long-armed shot-blocker and rebounder. He was not, by any stretch, an offensive threat. Kind of like Ben Wallace that way. But, Scott said, Ray was able to match Bob Lanier's offensive production in Game 7 -- a matchup that hadn't worked in the Bulls favor in the previous six games.

I mentioned to Ray Scott that when he coached the Pistons (1972-76), it was an interesting time. He laughed. "You don't know HOW interesting," he said as he chuckled with Barney.

Thirty years ago and a month, Scott was conducting practice -- the Pistons were in a terrible slump at the time -- and management strode onto the court, relieved Ray Scott of his silver whistle, and marched him off the court to give him the Ziggy -- that Detroit word for a coach getting fired.

The Pistons hadn't yet learned to act with class in 1976. They were still a bush league franchise, even though Bing and Scott and Lanier had combined to put pro basketball on the map in Detroit. So the firing of Scott -- in front of his stunned players -- in January 1976 was done with all the subtlety of July 4th fireworks.

Still, when I asked Ray Scott what was more fun -- coaching the Pistons or my alma mater, EMU -- he didn't hesitate.

"The Pistons," he said with surety. "College coaching is tough. Recruiting is tough. In coaching you have to have the horses. But in college, you have to go get them. In the pros, you draft them -- or trade for them."

Today, Scott is the Director of Development for Lutheran Child and Family Service of Michigan. Like so many other MSHOF members, he's giving back to the community that gave so much to him.

"It's like what Lem (Barney) said Sunday to my wayward girls that I had taken in," Scott told us when he was given the microphone to speak about the Hall with the other MSHOF members in attendance. "'Watch your thoughts. Because your thoughts become your words, and your words become your deeds, and your deeds become your legacy.'"

Scott spoke directly to the four Kronk fighters -- all young, up-and-coming boxers that Steward is helping to mold into championship contenders -- and said, "This place (the Hall) is going to be here and it's a place where your exploits can live on forever. You won't have to just talk about it in your living room. It will be here, for everyone to see. Each of you have been given a stage. Make the most of it."

MSHOF Executive Director Jim Stark said he hopes the temporary location -- about 5,000 square feet that can turn into over 30,000 with the annexation of a second floor -- will soon become permanent. "We're negotiating for a long-term lease," Stark said.

The Hall's vision includes not just the plaques and murals that adorned the walls at the old location in Cobo Hall, but interactive events and other activities that will make a trip to the MSHOF a true overall experience.

As for Scott, he told me that my having attended EMU, "Makes you a good person in my book."

So does being Ray Scott, in mine.

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