Charlie Scott’s lone regret from waiting more than 30 years to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is that his buddy Jo Jo White wasn’t there to welcome him at the ceremony on Friday.
White, a 2015 inductee, died in January, a few months before Scott got his Hall of Fame confirmation. White, Scott, and Spencer Haywood often talked about making the Hall together someday, and now all three are in.
Scott has been overshadowed for decades, despite his remarkable story. He was the first African-American scholarship athlete at the University of North Carolina, and then a member of the 1968 US Olympic team, witnessing firsthand the protests of track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
Scott, 69, recalls a meeting called by USOC president Avery Brundage, who was furious at Smith and Carlos for lifting their black-gloved fists during the medal ceremony. Brundage summoned all of the other African-American athletes into the meeting.
“He told us if anybody else protested, he was going to kick us out of the Olympic village,” Scott said.
Scott was from North Carolina by way of New York and he was 19 years old during the Mexico City Games. Brundage tried to reach the African-American athletes by summoning 1936 gold medalist and track legend Jesse Owens, who was 55 at the time, to talk to the team.
“At the time, Jesse Owens wasn’t really the right person to speak to us,” Scott said. “We kind of shunned him and kind of hissed him.”
Scott said that is something he has always regretted. Owens walked away from that meeting embarrassed and belittled, as many of the African-American athletes labeled him as part of the establishment.
“As you get older and you look back, you regret that,” Scott said. “We didn’t understand the circumstances that he was dealing with. And to be honest with you, I don’t think his generation understood the circumstances that we were dealing with. It’s like I don’t understand these millennials. They drive me up the wall.
“I think each generation shows us a different portion of what we’re about. I think that was a clash of two generations — the ’60s where we were in civil unrest and he was from an era where they were trying to be more integrated. It was a clash that really didn’t work well, and I feel very bad about the way we responded to the type of conversation that Jesse was trying to give us at that time.
“He had to be hurt by it because he came in there thinking one thing and we were a different group of black individuals at that time, and especially after Tommie and John had their demonstration. We were all on edge at that time. And Avery Brundage wasn’t a person that made you feel comfortable around him anyway, so his bigotry was easy to see. It was a very volatile time.”
Scott also was faced with a major decision before the 1968 Games — whether to even go to Mexico City. Activist Harry Edwards was encouraging black athletes to boycott the Games. Although he was the best player in the country at the time, Lew Alcindor [now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] passed on the Mexico City Games.
Scott considered skipping also, but then had a conversation with North Carolina coach Dean Smith.
“He said, ‘You know you came to the University of North Carolina to integrate it and make a difference. So to not go to the Olympics would be disingenuous of what you were doing at North Carolina.’ So that was the mantra of why I went. And the fact I made the Olympic team because no one expected me to make it. I felt like I was always a survivor, like I was always fighting for something.”
When he joined the Celtics in 1975, Scott was considered a high-volume shooter and a me-first player. Red Auerbach traded promising guard Paul Westphal for Scott, who blended in immediately to the Celtics fabric. Scott was the third-leading scorer on the team that won Boston’s second title in three years.
“I wanted to win a championship, we had Dave Cowens, we had Jo Jo, and to be honest with you, I know we may not have the status but I know we were as good as any team that could play today,” Scott said. “We had four guys who were legitimate Hall of Famers. I thought we had a very good chance to win it. To be honest, we never worried about losing [in the Finals] to the Phoenix Suns. We felt like every matchup on that court, we won.”
Scott explained that his reputation as a shoot-first player was built by a lack of talent around him on many of his teams besides the Celtics. Scott amassed six seasons of at least 25 points per game, but his teams reached the postseason just once before he arrived in Boston.
“That’s another misnomer, that athletes play with the talent that they play with,” said Scott. “When Kevin Durant came to Golden State, did Steph Curry have to tone down his shooting? When you’ve got great ballplayers you learn to play together.
“When I played with the Phoenix Suns and we played the New York Knicks, I would see Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Dave DeBusschere, and Willis Reed. And on my end, I saw Lamar Green, Neal Walk, Dick Van Arsdale, Clem Haskins, and myself. And the coach [John MacLeod] said we were going to win. So the reality is I knew I had to score a whole lot at the time.
“With Boston, the idea was whoever was on that night, that’s who we would go to and that was the impetus of what made it fun.”
PLENTY TO CHOOSE FROM
Olympic team has deep talent pool
With new coach Gregg Popovich and the FIBA World Cup in China coming next summer, USA Basketball marches forward with executive director Jerry Colangelo trying to compile a roster from a pool of 35 NBA players, and potentially more.
Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward each will have a chance to earn a roster spot for Team USA. They are in the pool of 35. Colangelo also will construct a Select team of younger NBA talents to compete with the US squad during workouts, the first step in the process of making the Olympic team.
Younger Celtics standouts Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are on Colangelo’s radar for the Select team.
“I think they’re two terrific candidates,” Colangelo said. “We have not spent any time talking about the Select team as of yet because our focus has been on the 28 or 30 on the national team roster. The camp we had this summer under Popovich was just to kind of break the ice.
“We’re going to be talking about the Select team over the next few months, but those are two outstanding candidates.”
Colangelo acknowledges building the 2020 Tokyo team will be a challenge with the wealth of talent, especially from younger, emerging players such as Donovan Mitchell, Damian Lillard, Victor Oladipo, and Bradley Beal.
“There’s no formula — the bottom line is we share our thoughts, our opinions, we come to a consensus on people,” Colangelo said. “The good news is from our perspective, the depth is unbelievable. There’s a lot of talent out there. The other thing that I think is pretty relevant is everyone wants to be there and that’s a great thing for the country, for USA Basketball, for all of that. I take it seriously. I know what it means to each individual and so everyone’s going to be given their due course.”
A looming question for USA Basketball is the status of LeBron James, who remains the most talented player in the NBA at age 33.
James, who passed on playing in the 2016 Rio Games, will be 35 in 2020 but should still be among the world’s best players. Colangelo generally allows premium players ample time to make decisions on whether they want to participate.
“If you look at our history since I’ve been involved, there’s usually about a 50 percent turnover each competition,” Colangelo said. “And that’s the way it should be. There should be the opportunity that young players, that they’ve got a shot, it’s not locked in.
“Things happen, injuries, age, retirement, whatever it may be, and I think that’s probably the way it’s going to be. I feel comfortable with that because I like new blood. There’s a lot of good, young players. I know it, I understand it, and I’m kind of motivated that way. But we have to let it take its course.”
Colangelo left open the possibility that players who aren’t on the original list of 35 players could emerge and become candidates for the national team, meaning players such as Brown and Tatum could set their sights higher than the Select team.
“We have a roster, it’s fluid,” Colangelo said. “There’s going to be deletions. There’s going to be additions. As we watch this season there could be things that change.”
Celtics’ Williams primed for season
When Robert Williams, all 6 feet 10 inches of him, stared down at a child as he participated in a neighborhood basketball court makeover, the child stared back smiling.
It was then that Williams realized that in Boston he is now a role model, as he attempts to atone for some rookie off-court miscues to begin his first season as a Celtic with positive vibes and positive results.
“I started off with a bad slate, missing flights, losing wallets,” he said. “But it’s a new place; it’s a new era, a new state. I have a chance to prove to everyone out here I am the trustworthy, reliable, accountable guy. [The people here] are not out there screaming where’s your wallet? It’s love.
“That’s the thing I picked up most about Boston. It’s more of a family area than anything else. I feel like the love and support from everyone has helped me be on the right track, help me want to prove why I am what you think I am.”
“Why you are holding me on such a high pedestal or high level because at this level you are and you have to live up to it.”
Being part of a community effort and helping Celtics legend Cedric Maxwell at youth clinics has opened the 20-year-old Williams’s eyes.
“I told one kid, why you smiling so much, you about to make me smile,” Williams said. “He was like, ‘You Robert Williams.’ It’s just a blessing. It’s like where we came from [Vivian, La.], you don’t see the communities getting together like this, you don’t see courts being built in backyards. Just seeing this was a great atmosphere, it was already a blessing seeing the crowd when I pulled up [last Wednesday].”
Williams was injured seven minutes into his first summer league game, diagnosed with left knee tendinitis. Williams said he still has not been cleared for five-on-five workouts. But he’s expected to be ready for training camp in late September.
One of the main coaches working personally with Williams is Brad Stevens. “Brad is definitely hands on,” Williams said. “He actually conditioned with me on the [stationary] bike and that’s kind of funny. If you have a question for him, his office is always open as far as basketball and off-the-court stuff.”
Williams became an authentic new Bostonian when he drove downtown to attempt to “get lost” in his new surroundings and he accomplished his goal and “ended up in Chinatown or something.”
He purchased a condominium that’s just a “two- or three-minute walk” from the Celtics’ practice facility in Brighton. “No one had to sell me on that. It may have been some encouragement [from the team] but that was my decision.”
Clippers a tough team to measure
The Los Angeles Clippers are being overlooked as a Western Conference contender, understandably. DeAndre Jordan left for the Mavericks, ending the “Lob City” era as Doc Rivers tries to rebuild and reload simultaneously.
The Clippers want to remain competitive, so they re-signed Avery Bradley, added Luc Mbah a Moute, Mike Scott, and Marcin Gortat, and drafted Boston College’s Jerome Robinson and Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. They will still have salary cap space to sign a maximum free agent next summer.
Rivers left the Celtics five years ago to guide the Clippers to a title. Instead, his tenure has been filled with regular-season successes and playoff disappointments. Last season, Rivers received some Coach of the Year votes for leading the Clippers to within two games of the playoffs despite many injuries and the Blake Griffin trade.
So with fewer expectations and the premise that the Clippers are just waiting until next summer to land a superstar, Rivers said he is excited about his revamped roster and the chance to coach and mold youngsters, something he wasn’t always thrilled about in Boston.
“I actually love our team,” he said. “We’re young. I don’t think that, if I was a guard, I would want to play against us. When you have Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley in the backcourt, I think, hopefully, we can create some nightmarish nights for people that way.”
Defensively the Clippers could be a terror but offense will be an issue. Austin Rivers is gone to Washington. Griffin is in Detroit. And Danilo Gallinari played just 21 games in his first season in Los Angeles, as he was again felled by injuries. Lou Williams, the league’s Sixth Man of the Year, led the club in scoring.
“Our key is how easy will it be for us to score?” Rivers said. “I look at us like the Pistons before, where there’s really no stars. But we’ve got a lot of good players. Tobias Harris is going to have a breakout year. He’s going to be big. I would like to see Gallo a lot. That would help us. Last year, Gallo played for 20 games. We do have the players, we’ve just got to have the health.”
The Northeastern men’s team took the 90-mile trip to Springfield on Thursday to watch alum J.J. Barea, now with the Mavericks, receive the Manny Jackson Human Spirit Award for his philanthropic work for his native Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Barea was joined by former NBA forward Boris Diaw and New York Liberty forward Tina Charles as Jackson Award winners . . . It’s September and Dwyane Wade still hasn’t decided whether he will return for a 16th NBA season, although it’s likely he will return to the Heat. The Heat just signed Wade’s buddy Udonis Haslem to a minimum deal to return for a 16th season. Haslem, who has played in 30 games the past two years, is essentially another coach for Miami . . . The Hall of Fame’s decision that players will have to wait only three years after retirement to be inducted boosts the class of 2019, which may have had no first-ballot inductees under the old four-year waiting period. Former Celtic Kevin Garnett, who retired in 2016, is now eligible for induction next fall along with Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, which would make for one of the better classes in Hall of Fame history.
The 76ers are in search of a general manager and are currently conducting interviews with three internal candidates, including highly regarded Mark Everson. Meanwhile, former GM Bryan Colangelo, fired after a bizarre stream of critical tweets of 76ers players was linked to his wife, made an appearance at the Hall of Fame reunion dinner on Thursday. Colangelo is the son of USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, who also attended the dinner. Former center Elton Brand, a rising front office executive, is one of those interviewing for the GM slot.