UNC's Scott was vanguard in integrated basketball
Posted February 21, 2011
Updated February 22, 2011
Charlie Scott accepts his place in history, but he had no intention of becoming the first African-American to earn an athletic scholarship at North Carolina.
The year was 1966, a heated time for race relations in the South.
“Coach [Dean] Smith never really talked about integration,” Scott said of his recruitment. “He always talked about me being part of the team.”
The excitement of joining a talented young class at Carolina is what ultimately swayed the Laurinburg native to sign with UNC instead of Davidson, a program that was earning national recognition at that time with coach Lefty Driesell.
When Scott arrived in Chapel Hill, his teammates initially didn’t know how to handle playing with an African-American or how to deal with the taunts Scott would hear during road games.
Scott believed the only way he would be accepted would be to succeed on the court.
“When I played basketball, I never got the opportunity to enjoy it,” he said. “It was more of a relief that I didn’t fail.”
Scott’s Carolina career was far from a failure. He averaged 22.1 points and 7.1 rebounds a game during his three varsity seasons. His Tar Heel teams made two Final Fours and won two ACC Tournaments.
Despite a standout season as a junior in 1969, the media opted to give Player of the Year award to John Roche, a white guard from South Carolina.
The vote angered Smith and was a painful lesson for Scott. “I was extremely hurt,” he said. “Losing the vote wasn’t so stinging as was the wide margin of the votes.”
Scott started making his opponents feel the pain that postseason. In the ACC Tournament championship game against Duke, Scott put on one of the greatest performances in league history, scoring 40 points and making 17 of his 23 shots to earn tournament Most Outstanding Player honors.
In the East Regional Final, Scott scored 32 and made a last-second shot to defeat Davidson, the Driesell-coached team Scott opted not to join, and sent UNC to the Final Four.
Scott became a hero to African-American basketball fans of all teams and all parts of the country, not just North Carolina.
Two players who claim Scott as an idol are Phil Ford and Michael Jordan. Both later starred at UNC. Scott gives Smith the credit for bringing them to Chapel Hill but admits his experience couldn’t have hurt their decision.
“I think they were able to see the response of the white Carolina fans to me and say, ‘Hey, if I go over there and do well, I will be received in the same manner.’”
After a ten-year career in the ABA and NBA, Scott now lives in Atlanta and works as a consultant for various basketball organizations. But you can still find him every so often back in Chapel Hill watching his son, Shaun, on the UNC junior varsity squad.
Shaun, a sophomore, embraces his father’s legacy. “Even my friends on campus who didn’t know my dad, they find out about it and come and tell me about it,” he said. “It makes me smile and feel good inside.”
What would make his father smile is seeing Shaun on the UNC varsity team. “As a dad, that would make me as proud as I can be.”
Donning Carolina blue isn’t a requirement in the Scott household. His younger son, Shannon, was named to the McDonald’s All-America team and will play for Ohio State next season.