Catching Up With ... Former Baltimore Bullets forward Ray Scott

Ray Scott was never an all-star for the Baltimore Bullets, but that might not have been his fault.

Ray Scott is a great grandfather who, at 76, should be slowing down. So, why is the onetime Bullets power forward roaming the Midwest, raising money for a firm that helps families cope with child-rearing, adoptions and foster care?

"I made a promise to God that if he made me an NBA player, then I would work with young people," said Scott, an 11-year pro who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. "I was blessed; now, I'm paying back. Besides, helping others isn't a job, it's an opportunity."

The Bullets — now the Washington Wizards, who play the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Tuesday — gave Scott his shot when they pried the 6-foot-9 roleplayer from the Detroit Pistons in 1967.

Strong, smart and a notorious streak shooter, he stayed 31/2 years during which Baltimore climbed from last place to first in the NBA Eastern Division.

In a March 1969 victory over the Chicago Bulls, Scott scored five straight baskets in the last period as the Bullets clinched their first division crown.

"Back then, you celebrated in the locker room in your street clothes," he said. "I had to throw my shoes away after that game because I couldn't get the champagne smell out."

Fierce on the boards, Scott had 28 rebounds in a win over the Boston Celtics and center Bill Russell. But he could also dribble behind his back and, for two years, he led his team in assists. Moreover, Scott could set screens and picks with the best of them

"I wanted to be the quintessential player, not one to just stand under the basket," he said.

In a victory over the St. Louis Hawks, Scott had 27 points, 26 rebounds and 6 assists. And in his first game against the Pistons after being dealt here, he exploded for 30 points and 20 rebounds.

"That was revenge, to show Detroit what it had lost," he said. "Afterward, their general manager (Ed Coil) told me, 'Boy, I wish you were still here.'"

With his short baseline jumper and graceful hook shot, Scott averaged 13.2 points and 10.1 rebounds a game for the Bullets, who paired him up front with strongman Gus Johnson, a future Hall of Famer.

"There was a lot of jostling between us to see who was tougher," Scott said. "Truth is, Gus was one of the greatest athletes I ever saw — and he liked to remind you of it. He had a great smile, a basso profondo voice and a presence that said, 'I just love to be awake.'"

After games, the two would head down Pennsylvania Avenue — "Gus was king there," Scott said — and hang out at Johnson's favorite haunt, the Club Casino. In 1968, Scott opened a restaurant on that strip, "Ray Scott's BBQ Ranch," which he sold when when he left town.

Pensive and well-spoken, Scott coined two memorable phrases while in Baltimore. Of the Bullets' explosive Hall of Fame guard, he said, "God couldn't go one-on-one with Earl Monroe." Of teammate Fred Carter, who'd hound opposing ballhandlers, Scott said, "He plays defense like a mad dog." The feral nickname stuck.

Though he averaged a career double double, Scott never made the NBA All-Star team.

"I certainly had the statistics for it," he said. "Not being recognized used to bother me but, remember, I played on teams where the other forward was Gus, or Bailey Howell, or Dave DeBusschere (all Hall of Famers). I was just the schmuck on the other side."

Selected by the Buffalo Braves in the 1970 NBA expansion draft, Scott jumped leagues and played two years with the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association. At 34, he retired in 1972 and became Detroit's head coach.

"It's very intimidating to walk into a locker room with 12 millionaires, knowing you're the lowest-paid guy there but that you have to give them a plan of attack," Scott said. But his strategy worked. One year later, the Pistons won a franchise-record 52 games and Scott was named NBA Coach of the Year, the first African-American so honored.

Fired in 1975, he coached briefly at Eastern Michigan and then quit the game, raised a family and spent 30 years as an insurance executive. He now works for Wellspring Lutheran Services, giving speeches and corraling donors for the nonprofit counseling and caregiver.

Half a century later, he'll sometimes gets the urge to drive to the hoop.

"Sure, I think about it," he said. "Then I go lay down on the couch, and the feeling goes away."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikeKlingaman

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