Black History Month Inspirations | Lessons in Toughness

For Mike Scott, the Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree
by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

The following article is based off the script for the fourth and final installment in the 76ers Podcast Network's Black History Month Inspirations mini-series of the same name.

It was April of 2019, and Mike Scott hadn't even been with the 76ers for two months following a trade from the LA Clippers in February.

That might not sound like a long time, but for a guy like Scott, the moment he puts on your jersey, you've got his heart.

So it probably should have come as no surprise that Scott responded the way he did when this situation broke out at The Center in a late-season matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks. 

It was hard to blame Scott for getting involved, given the circumstances.

After Eric Bledsoe whipped the ball at Joel Embiid, it bounced right into Scott's hands. He then came to the defense of his teammate. 

Perhaps not so coincidentally, Scott then proceeded to go off, in the best possible way. He finished the game with 22 points, which tied a season-high, and knocked down 6 of 8 3-point attempts. 

There's plenty more to Mike Scott than toughness, but make no mistake about it - for the Chesapeake native, toughness is one of his defining traits. 

"I think that's just coming from Virginia, in the 757," Scott said, referring to his hometown zip code.

After a game, Scott wants you to remember who you went up against.

Shortly after he was acquired by the Sixers, he said about his own style of play:

"Plays hard, he’s a dog, he makes shots, when you switch on him he’s going to try to bury out, push you around, he’s physical, and when he comes in the game, he’s going to play with a lot of energy, be physical, be tough, and do what it takes to win." 

The obvious question is, where does Scott's toughness come from? 

The answer can be found close to the heart, close to home, and someone essentially identical in name.

His dad, Michael H. Scott, was a Marine for 25 years. He enlisted straight out of high school.

"It was tough," said Scott. "He didn’t go for [expletive], he didn’t take [expletive]. He did tours, he was a drill sergeant, did tours in Desert Storm, Iraq, and all that. He was a beast. He was tough, he was in shape. Now he done got fat and old and retired, as he should." 

At one point, the elder Scott held three jobs. These days, he's still living in Chesapeake, Virginia, working in the Norfolk Public School System as a school security officer. 

Scott is now also an author, having published a book in January about parenting and sports. He also has a podcast that focuses on the same theme.

On one of the walls of his office is the reproduction of a painting of his son commissioned by a friend for Mike himself. 

"Young Mike was a very interesting kid," said Michael Scott. "For the most part he was a lot taller than the other kids his age. He felt he had to shrink down to other kids. We worked on building that confidence and being able to stand up and stand tall."

So quite literally, Scott stood out. 

Listen to the Black History Inspirations mini-series from the 76ers Podcast Network

When Scott was born in July 1988, his father had already logged nearly a decade of service in the Marines. He first joined in August 1978.

"I was a fairly decent academic kid, but school didn't interest me like that anymore...Friend came to me and said join me on the buddy system. If he thinks he could make it, I know I could make it. As funny as it may seem, I ended up carrying him through boot camp."

Michael Scott had an interest in sports growing up, but wasn't exactly encouraged to play. His parents wanted him focused on his education and preparing to enter the workforce. 

Scott wanted a different experience for his own kids.

"I said, 'Something has to change.' As I grew into adulthood and started my own family,  I made sure that everything with Mike was best for him to give him a successful life in the end."

When Michael Scott reflects on his military days, his voice fills with fondness and nostalgia. There's no hint of fatigue, regret, or resentment. 

He even called himself "lucky," because each of the three positions he held in the Marines kept him relatively sedentary for extended periods of time.

Scott had two stints on Parris Island (near Hilton Head) in South Carolina. Then, when Mike was born, his dad was based out of the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia.

After that, Michael Scott's final duty station took him and his family across the country to Camp Pendleton in Southern California. 

"My last deployment took me out for nearly nine months," Michael Scott said. "I sent Mike back this way. Every opportunity I had, I was on the phone, trying to do some type of video. They didn't have all the fancy gadgets they have now. I didn't have a cell phone. I was trying to make calls from the ship. We made it work."

But before Mike Scott was sent back East, something seminal happened on his dad's base.

"That's where Mike started playing basketball."

Before Mike was out of elementary school, he was already turning heads, especially his father's. By that point, Michael Scott had returned home and retired from the service.

"In his early days, he played recreational ball, when he was eight years old. During a game, he ended up with 45 points. Some folks would say he hogged the ball. No. He was only able to play two quarters - he played the second and fourth quarter only, and ended up with 45 points. That's when I saw that flash of maybe he got something here."

In the Scott household, however, there was an important distinction:

Basketball was a reward, not a right. 

"He only played school ball if his grades were right," said the elder Scott. "That was the deal between me and him."

There was another condition between Mike and his dad back then, whether Mike liked it or not.

"My dad used to make me play with the older guys, and they used to punk me," Scott said. "They wouldn’t call me soft but I probably was timid and a little soft, a little frail, 6-6, 200 pounds. I didn’t really have that tough mentality demeanor until I started getting older and started getting that mindset. I guess that helped me get that mindset, get tougher."

Something worth noting:

Mike Scott and his dad use the same context when talking about Mike and his toughness. Both say it's all about what's going on between his ears.

"He's not a physical tough guy as far as someone I constantly had to go to school because he was always in fights," said Michael Scott. "I think a lot of what he has now is that mental toughness and aggressiveness. I think a lot of that came from him watching me during my Marine Corps career.

"I always pushed him that he could overcome whatever challenges came in front of him to push forward."

For Michael Scott, finding the best balance between parenting and his profession didn't come right away.

"Initially, that was the approach - what I used at work, I used at home. Then I realized that was not the right format, that's not going to work.

"I have to admit there were times I might have been a little tougher than need be, but I was determined he was going to be successful in something."

And so he was.

Mike Scott landed a scholarship to one of his home state's premiere schools, the University of Virginia.

His senior season at Virginia, Scott's team also featured future NBA players Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon.

Scott was chosen in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft by Atlanta. At that time, the Hawks featured Al Horford, Lou Williams, and Jeff Teague, and were a perennial playoff team. 

And so began the next phase of Scott's education in toughness.

"I had some hardcore vets," said the third-year 76er. "My rookie year I had Josh Smith, Shaun Stevenson, Anthony Morrow, Zaza [Pachulia]. Lou was my vet, Al was there. I had great professionals - Kyle Korver, Devin Harris, Teague. I was always around hardcore - remember Ivan Johnson? He used to wear the grills. Nobody would fuck with Ivan Johnson. At the same time, I had professionals Anthony Tolliver, guys who I learned how to be a pro. Paull Millsap got there. DeMarre Carroll. For the most part, I was always taught just be physical, be aggressive, have that mindframe nobody’s going to punk me, and just play with that chip on your shoulder." 

The lessons have been long lasting. 

Scott is now a father of two, and the apple and the tree seem to be in full effect.

"When I’m talking to my son or when I’m with my son I can see, yeah, that’s how my dad would do," Scott said. "Just showing that tough love. My dad had a lot of tough love. That’s how sometimes I show love to my son -jJust showing him the way, showing him love, also having that tough love. That’s what my dad showed me."

"He has some of the same qualities," said Scott's dad.

"Something I used to say to Mike, I would say, 'The great…' and he would say, 'SCOTT!' That's just something I would say to him to remind him that you got to remember, that 'Scott' has greatness in you, and you've got to uphold that and keep it moving."

There's no doubt that by graduating from the University of Virginia and carving out a nine-year career in the NBA, Mike Scott has indeed done great things to honor his family name.

Dad watches regularly. To bring the story full circle, he had the TV on back in April 2019, when Eric Bledsoe went after Joel Embiid.

Michael Scott thought there was something deeper to his son's response than just surface-level toughness, a reaction that revealed the true essence of Mike's makeup.

"I've watched that situation a few times over. I said he's just defending his teammate. You've got to be able to have his back just as you expect him to have your back. That's what he's all about. He's going to make sure he's going to be there for his next guy. In other words, he's going to be his brother's keeper, which is something I have been doing all my life."

For as much as Michael Scott may have inspired his son, Mike has repaid the favor, providing his dad quite the ride in return.

"Because of the things he's accomplished academically and all the other challenges and trials and tribulations that we went through as a family, he's able to stand tall and feel good about himself," Michael Scott said. "As a result, that he's gotten to play in the league for these nine seasons, it brings joy to my heart, joy to my heart."

Click below to listen to and read additional installments in our Black History Month Inspirations mini-series.

Doc Rivers | Made in Maywood

Danny Green | A Path of Perseverance

Elton Brand | Serving With Selflessness

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