Charlie Scott: The Next Big O, 1972

[The ABA Virginia Squires’ Charlie Scott as the next Oscar Robertson? Read all about it in this article from the Victory Sports Series Pro Basketball Yearbook, 1972. Drawing the comparison is Augie Borgi, a sportswriter for the Bergen (NJ) Record. Borgi covered the New York Knicks and the NBA, not the ABA. So, his perspective is different than your usual ABA correspondent. And yes, it’s pre-Dr. J. Here’s the story.]


Ask Al Bianchi to compare Oscar Robertson and Charlie Scott, and the coach of the Virginia Squires may be at a loss for words. He’ll think for a moment and probably say: “Not much, except Oscar plays in the NBA, where they use that funny looking ball.”

Bianchi is rarely at a loss for words. But to say that Scott is in a class with Oscar would be hearsay to many NBA fans. Those Squire fans in the Virginia Commonwealth, however, will have no such trepidations about comparing Scott to Oscar, who for years has been called the most-complete player ever to play the game of basketball. 

“Oscar Robertson is the most-complete player you’ll ever find,” is the way Willis Reed of the Knicks describes The Big O. Of course, Reed isn’t alone in his praise of Oscar. The praise is universal, and it’s been going on seemingly forever. 

Enter Earl Foreman, owner of the Virginia Squires, the man who lured Scott to the ABA, the man who is hoping to build a dynasty around the backcourt player that the ABA compares to The Big O. “Charlie Scott does things with a basketball that no other player has ever done,” Foreman says.

Someday, the ABA will find a way to stop Charlie Scott. But the only way to stop him would change the entire game of basketball, because the referee isn’t allowed to play defense.

Scott is extraordinarily quick. His speed and jumping ability more than offset his slender physique and have made him a rarity among All-Americans these days. He’s productive as a pro.

Rarely does the All-American come into the pros and do wonderful things. An adjustment period is necessary. Bob Lanier and Jimmy Walker of Detroit are still adjusting. Many consider Pete Maravich of Atlanta a flop as a pro. No one has said anything bad about Charlie Scott.

He played his high school ball in a North Carolina prep school league, but the essence of his game is straight out of Harlem, acquired on playgrounds with names like “The Pit” and “The Battleground.” It is a penetrating, passing, moving game, the prototype from which the whole pro style developed. Charlie Scott’s game is Oscar Robertson’s game. That is why the comparison between the two has developed and why the people in the ABA are willing to compare their man to the best in the NBA.

There is a difference between Oscar and Charlie, though. While Oscar will remain to himself and rarely say too much, Charlie will sometimes tell you exactly what he thinks.

He was the first Black athlete to attend the University of North Carolina on an athletic scholarship, and there were problems galore throughout the Atlantic Coast Conference. Chapel Hill was mild compared to the bitterness created in Clemson and Columbia, SC. 

While many Blacks boycotted the Olympic basketball team, Charlie Scott played. He was the United States star at Mexico City, as the U.S. won its usual championship. 

As a junior, Charlie was an All-American. His best game was a 17-for-23 shooting night that produced 40 points, a win over Duke and North Carolina’s third-straight ACC tournament title. In the NCAA tournament at College Park, Maryland, Charlie scored 32 points, including the game-winning basket at the buzzer as North Carolina beat Davidson for the Eastern Regional championship. Then the ACC selected John Roche as its Player of the Year and South Carolina coach Frank McGuire as the conference Coach of the Year. 

Scott said he should have won the award, and North Carolina coach Dean Smith should have won, too. In retrospect, it seems strange that not one newsman supported his view. Scott was labeled a crybaby. Maybe in the ACC, but not to the rest of the country. Charlie Scott simply was willing to say what he thought, something few people do these days.

Dean Smith, naturally, wouldn’t trade Scott for Roche during his college days. And certainly, no one is about to suggest a trade these days, even if the New York Nets throw in a seven-foot center and a couple of number one draft choices. Charlie Scott is an untouchable these days. He’s a Squire, the player that the team revolves around.

Scott showed the pros what he could do. He’d come into the league with the reputation as the best player in North Carolina history. He was compared to golfer Arnold Palmer because of the similarity of his intensive clutch play.

“When the game is close near the end,” Dean Smith said so many times that it almost became a cliché in Carolina, “Charles is like Arnold Palmer birdying 17 and 18.”

In the NBA, Oscar Robertson is Jack Nicklaus. He birdies everything. In the ABA, so does Scott. If a goal is needed, he scores. If the opposition double-teams, Charlie finds the open man. No one can score the big goal or find the open man like Scott except . . . Oscar.

Scott came into the pros with more than basketball credentials. “I must say this,” Smith admitted, “I’m proud of the fact Charlie was a credit to Carolina in more ways than basketball. He was a Dean’s List student (Pre-Med) and a campus leader. There was never any doubt in my mind that he would be a great professional. He’s a natural for the game.”

Smith, of course, was correct in his judgment. Scott was an Instant success as a pro as his 27 point and nine assist averages attest. Those are Oscar Robertson-type statistics.

“The big thing that impresses me about Charlie is he wants the ball in crucial situations. He’s almost impossible to stop one-on-one or driving to the basket,” says Bianchi.

Another booster is Ray Scott, former NBA forward now with the Squires. “Charlie right now may be the best all-around player in either league. He has no equal in driving for the basket.

“He reminds me a lot of Dave Bing. Charlie has such great versatility, and he is, above all, a real team player. He’s really the most valuable player in the ABA. Forget what I said about Bing. Charlie reminds me of Oscar Robertson. Only he’s built like Dave Bing.”

While the basketball world was watching Oscar and Lew Alcindor win the NBA championship, the little world of the ABA was more intent on Charlie Scott. The crime of it, of course, was that Scott didn’t get the true recognition he deserves. New Yorkers, for example, don’t know too much about Scott, simply because he played his best game of the season against the Nets in the Felt Forum.

The Felt Forum is a small auditorium attached to Madison Square Garden. While the Knicks were playing to the usual capacity crowd of 19,500, Scott was eliminating the Nets at the Felt Forum before 3,016 ABA fans.

The Nets had a 17-point lead in this Felt Forum game, and the New Yorkers had hopes that the playoff series would continue now that the Nets were seemingly going to win for the second time in the series. Virginia, with three victories, simply appeared to be out of the game. Then Al Bianchi made a coaching maneuver. He’d let Charlie Scott handle everything.

Joe DePre of the Nets certainly couldn’t handle Charlie as he zipped through the air with super extensions that seemed to be made of rubber. Charlie had scored 20 points in the first three periods. In the last quarter, however, he became the offensive show. He took command the way Oscar does. The Squires needed points; Charlie Scott scored points. Eighteen points in one period, a 38-point night, a 118-114 victory, triumph number four, the elimination of the Nets in the playoffs.

“Charlie Scott has done things like that since I knew him,” said Luther Green of the Nets. “That’s 10 years, and he’s getting better. When winning it all is on the line, look for Charlie, and he’ll do it.”

When the Nets tried to pressure Scott, they didn’t get anything for their troubles. DePre had fouled out, so Ollie Taylor hawked Scott during the final 25 seconds. When Taylor got some defensive help, Charlie found Doug Moe underneath for the basket that assured the win.

“He makes all the big plays,” said Lou Carnesecca, the fiery coach-general manager of the Nets. “He reminds me so much of Oscar Robertson that I hate to think what he’s going to do as he gains pro experience.”

So how does Scott feel about what every ABA coach or player says about his game?

Not much. Scott, like Oscar, isn’t about to gloat. He’s quiet. If something goes wrong, he’ll tell you about it. Otherwise, all he’s interested in is winning games. He’ll score the important points when they’re needed, and he’ll make the big plays with his dynamic passing style that amazes everyone this side of the Oscar Robertson Fan Club.

Whenever Bianchi turns Scott loose for the Oscar Robertson-style final-minutes routine that wins games, various ABA coaches traditionally moan. The colonists in Virginia will only smile. They love Bianchi’s coaching move that empowers Charlie to direct the show.

This coaching move might even become known as the “Dread Scott” decision, because the other ABA teams will dread their inability to stop Charlie Scott, the slender Oscar Robertson.

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