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The greatness of Stuart Scott

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Stuart Scott's Legacy (14:52)

Stuart Scott, a longtime anchor at ESPN, died Sunday morning at the age of 49. He inspired his colleagues with his talent, his work ethic, his personality and his devotion to his daughters Taelor, 19, and Sydni, 15. (14:52)

The only reason it's possible for me to write in the wake of Stuart Scott's death is I saw how hard he worked in the waning years of his life.

It seemed as though his health never got better, only more tolerable, but whenever his injury status was upgraded to so much as "questionable," that was enough for him to get back in the lineup. The emotional devastation I felt upon learning of his death from cancer Sunday morning is nothing compared to the physical challenges Stuart faced from that insidious disease that turned his own body against him.

The higher-ups at ESPN told him to stay home and get better. He defied them and kept coming to work. To him, that was getting healthier. Every time you saw him on TV the past few years, it was a testament to how much he loved his job.

We should think of his later TV appearances as a great game that went into overtime.

The last time I saw Stuart in person was the night in July when he owned the stage at the ESPYS with that moving speech after he accepted the Jimmy V Award.

We crossed paths later that night as he left a party. I congratulated him and gave him a pat on the arm. He was so frail that his arm felt hollow. His entire body seemed hollow, like his essence had been scooped out of him. He gave me an atypically tepid reply and kept moving.

It was as if he had used up all his energy on the speech. And if you peered between the lines of what he had said on stage, you knew he had drained all of his reserve fuel in the fight against cancer and was ready for the inevitable conclusion.

I had feared he reached that stage a few years ago, when he showed up at a Lakers game with his daughters in tow. Players kept breaking from the layup lines to come over and talk to him, and he kept explaining that he wasn't there for work, just taking a trip to L.A. with his girls.

He had plenty more time, as it turned out. Not as long as any of us would have liked, but enough to work "Monday Night Football" games, enough to emcee the trophy presentation at the NBA Finals, enough to co-host the debut of the new "SportsCenter" studio.

Maybe it's a good thing that the earliest memories of my time spent with Stuart are starting to blur, because it's a sign of just how far we go back. We were comrades for close to 20 years, two guys in the sports business whose jobs often brought us together, especially at the NBA Finals. At this point it's hard to distinguish between all the dinners, drinks and lobby conversations at the National Association of Black Journalists convention.

It's the past 7½ years as colleagues at ESPN that remain crystal clear, the opportunities to work together on NBA shows and "SportsCenter" segments that provided an up-close look at greatness in action.

He could smoothly follow a producer's instructions through the earpiece and mentally prepare for the next segment while speaking on the current topic. Or he could call an audible and guide the conversation in a direction he thought best. And although he was known for bringing hip-hop vernacular to ESPN, he took pride in packing more information than anyone else into each highlight. Go back and watch the clips, only this time ignore the sayings and count the number of facts.

You might be surprised at how low-key he could be off air. The most extreme example came once when he was on the set quietly talking on his phone between brief update segments, a steady flow of soft "Yeah, yeah" until the camera was hot; he said "Hold on, hold on," put the phone down and ramped up the decibels:

"STUART SCOTT HERE WITH THIS 'SPORTSCENTER' UPDATE ..."

He could tone it down just as quickly, going from dropping "Boo-yahs" on air to daddy mode in the green room, where his daughters were doing homework.

My most cherished time with Stuart was spent on the golf course, when we got in nine holes at La Cantera in San Antonio during the 2013 NBA Finals. Neither of us played that well. Didn't matter. It was about the company.

With Stuart, it was always about the company.