Rookie Tales: Coach Byron Scott

December 12, 2012
Byron Scott

Coach Byron Scott has seen his share of rookies – in Cleveland and throughout his coaching tenure. But with the Lakers in town on this week, asked the former Showtime star what his first season was like in Los Angeles.

Scott grew up in nearby Inglewood, California and he idolized the Lakers – specifically Bob McAdoo. In 1983, after a stellar career at Arizona State, the San Diego Clippers made him the No. 4 overall pick in the Draft. But before Scott could ever suit up for the Clippers, he was dealt to the Purple and Gold – where he remained until 1993. (Before returning in 1996.)

The Cavs head coach tells us his Rookie Tale from the early days of Showtime – which veterans were the easiest on his, which ones were toughest and what it was like meeting (and playing with) his childhood idols ….

What was the feeling like, as a kid from Inglewood, walking into a Lakers locker room that your idol – Bob McAdoo – in it?
Byron Scott: You know what, it was crazy because the first time I went in the locker room – before I even finished signing my contract when I got traded – I see McAdoo. And the first thing that hit me was, ‘Whoa, he’s a lot bigger than I thought!’

And I didn’t let him know until a year later that I idolized him growing up.

You’re in awe when you’re able to come face-to-face with somebody that you truly admired. You’re in awe.

I was in awe of going up to Magic Johnson and talking to him. And he just kind of looked at me and said, ‘Is everything taken care of? Are you ready? Are you ready to get in here and start practicing?’

It was one of those feelings that ‘I made it, but I’m playing with this guy and this guy and this guy.

And it’s very humbling, because you think, when you’re going to the pros, that you’re The Man and thinking how good you are. But now you walk in that locker room where you’re playing with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob McAdoo, James Worthy, Michael Cooper. It was like, ‘Whoa, this is the real deal!’

Did you have to sort of play it cool – all of a sudden having future Hall of Fame teammates?
Scott: Yeah, you do. Because you don’t want to be like a fan. And now you’re on their level, so to speak.

But these are guys that you watched on TV – so they’re bigger than life.

My first time in the locker room, I had to kind of calm down. (I thought): ‘This is the Lakers locker room. It’s the team I idolized, my favorite team growing up. There’s Magic Johnson’s locker and there’s Kareem’s and there’s Coop’s.’

Then, Jerry West comes in and takes you around to meet all the guys. This is ‘The Logo.’ This is a guy I grew up watching as well; one of my favorite players when I was a youngster.

So, going into that whole situation – it was mind-boggling and it was an eye-opening. But it was also one of the coolest things you could ever experience.

How did Kareem treat you as a rookie?
Scott: Kareem didn’t say anything to me for about three days. And the first words he spoke were: ‘Rook, go get me some water.’

I would come in every day: ‘Hey, what’s up, cap?’ He wouldn’t say anything – he’d just nod. And then the third day: ‘I’m good, rook. Go get me some water.’ And I thought, ‘Ok, that’s cool. He’s finally starting to accept me. He’s talking to me now!’

Were any of the veterans extra-tough on you?
Scott: Oh yeah! Magic and Coop in the first week of Camp.

(The Lakers) had traded Norm Nixon – who was a very popular guy, who was their buddy. So they weren’t so happy about the deal. So the first three or four days of practice, they were hitting me with elbows and all this stuff and it took me about four days to say: ‘Alright, I’ve taken enough of this crap.’ And Coop hit me with another ’bow and I just said, ‘Look, next time you hit me with a ‘bow, it’s gonna be on!’ And he looked at me and backed up and said, ’Ok, rook!’ And he hit me with another one and I hit him with one back and that was it.

The funny thing about it was, later on that year, they told me: ‘We had to test you. We had to see if you were tough enough and if you had any heart. We want to make sure if you’re going to be on this team and we’re hanging with you, that you’re a guy we can go to war with. And you passed the test with flying colors.’

You don’t know it – as a rookie – that this is a test, that these guys pushing you, throwing elbows, talking crap, cussing you out. You don’t know what’s going on. You just think they’re being a**holes. But you have to stand your ground or they’re just going to beat you up every day.

Me, being from Inglewood – it was a no-brainer. Basketball’s one thing – but you ain’t gonna punk me like that! And so that earned their respect and from that day on, we were the three amigos known around town.

James Worthy had to go through it the season before. Did he help you out at all?
Scott: (Worthy) was still young and he’d come up to me, saying, ‘Man, don’t worry about it. They treated me like this last year.’

But he was one of the few guys that would talk to me on an everyday basis. Magic wouldn’t say much. Coop wouldn’t say much. But then, like I said, Training Camp, start of the season, we got to about the end of November into December and everything was pretty cool because then everybody knew … this rookie, he’s alright.

How did Pat Riley treat you?
Scott: He was cool with me, (thinking): ‘I got a rookie, I’m going to try to teach him.’

Riles was a very hands-on-type coach – offensively and defensively. And just like most coaches are with rookies, they’re going to be hard on them, but they’re also going to teach them as much as possible.

Sounds like he took it easier on you as a rookie than you do on your guys …
Scott: (laughs) Pretty close. I’m probably a little tougher on these guys than he was on me. I think he let the guys be tougher on me. Whereas here, I’m a little tougher on these guys than their teammates would be.

Your rookies have the little girl backpacks and the baby strollers. Did you have any kind of initiation?
Scott: Yeah, but it was simple. I just had to carry equipment on the road trips. When we get off the bus to go in, I had to get the balls and the video equipment. But that was it.

And about halfway through the year, even that stopped. The video equipment, Gary Vitti said, ‘We got ballboys coming for the video stuff. You just get the balls.’

Kareem once played a little joke on me in Portland. It was raining – (like normal) – and I had a suit on. And he took my dress shoes from the locker room out to the bus. So I had to go out in my tennis shoes and he thought that was really funny. But that was about it.

You got off easy compared to today’s rookies.
Scott: Oh, yeah. I send these guys through it. With the backpacks and the baby carriages, I send these guys through it a little bit.

I just want to make them go through it. Because I know how fortunate I was. And because I’ve seen other rookies on other teams doing a whole lotta stuff. But for the Lakers, they just made me carry some bags.

Was it just that the Lakers were so established that they didn’t have time to mess with rookies from Inglewood? And what was it like when you finally became a veteran?
Scott: Probably so. But it got better as I got older.

Magic would run Training Camp and he’d be like, ‘I’ll take this rookie. B, which rookie do you want? Clever (that’s what we called James Worthy), which one do you want?’

So, when we finished out team dinner the night before Training Camp started, I would always get the rookie and say, ‘Listen, at 7:30, I want my breakfast so I’m going to tell you what I want each night. At 7:30, knock on my door with breakfast. And then I’ll tell you what I need when I get to practice.’

And that system worked out pretty well for me.