Said and Done, but Scott Is Sorry

It is a comfortable house, Byron Scott’s, not far from where he played as a child and plays as a man.

It is not 104th & Crenshaw, where he lived until he left for college. Nor is it, say, Bel-Air, which is where Magic Johnson gravitated after moving here from the Midwest, and where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar eventually left behind his childhood in New York. It is somewhere in between--a good neighborhood, with joggers, mown lawns, creative topiary and basketball hoops and nets in the driveways, including Scott’s.

And that is what Byron has always been.

A good neighbor.

Never did it occur to the longtime Laker player that anyone in the vicinity of his hometown could turn on him, angrily, even viciously, because of a turn of events, a turn of phrase, because of a heartfelt remark he made in the heat of a moment, a genuinely expressed emotion regrettably altered by a poorly chosen word.


Condemn . I think that was the word I used that set people off,” Scott said Wednesday, still stinging from the backlash to comments he made after rioting broke out in Los Angeles, touched off by the verdict in the Rodney King case.

“What I said was that I couldn’t condemn what the rioters were doing. What I meant was that I don’t condemn people . That I don’t judge them.

“I’m sorry if it came out wrong. Don’t forget, I was pretty upset. That was my city out there that was burning. I was upset about the verdict, same way a lot of people were. I understood why so many people were so angry. But I never, ever meant to suggest that I approved of what they were doing, that it was justified.

“What they did was horrible. It made me sick.”

He grew more ill by the hour, whenever a violent scene appeared on TV, whenever a familiar intersection was shown covered in ash. “Crenshaw, Normandie, Florence . . . this is like my back yard. These are the places I grew up, the places I hung out. You don’t totally understand how devastating it is to see a community destroyed until it’s your community,” Scott said.

On the last day of April, the morning after a Laker-Portland playoff game, Scott was still smarting from the courtroom verdict. He gave an interview in which he said that he couldn’t find it in his heart to condemn those who were rioting because: “I know how they feel.”

On the first day of May, Scott went to see how everybody was doing at Western Surplus, a supply house near Western and Manchester where Byron and his wife, Anita, have shopped and made many friends. The store has goods of all kinds, clothing as well as guns and ammunition.

Had goods of all kinds.

“Tuesday, the store was there,” Scott said. “Thursday, it was gone.”

By the weekend, he couldn’t imagine things could get any worse. He began to hear radio talk-show reaction to the interview he had given. That was followed by a letters-to-the-editor page in The Times on which Scott was castigated for virtually advocating, if not inciting, additional violence, as well as for abusing his position as a public figure. Whereas he meant to condemn nobody, public reaction condemned him.

With each criticism, Scott winced.

“It hurt,” he said. “The one that really got to me was a letter from some guy who said something about, ‘Next time you guys choke in the playoffs, maybe we’ll come over to your house and burn it down and you’ll understand how we feel.’ That, to me, is totally ignorant. He’s talking about hurting my family, my children, my home.

“That’s when I realized that it was important for me to try to clarify what I said.”

Not so much to apologize but explain, not so much for what was said but how it sounded. For example, in the interview in question that appeared in The Times on May 1, even with emotions running high, Scott took pains several times to emphasize that in no way did he condone the violence. At one point, he was quoted: “I wish they’d show their anger in a different direction, but people are going to be people and they’re going to show the way they feel, one way or another.”

He never wanted trouble to happen. He merely understood why it was happening.

“It’s a shame that people interpreted it the way they did. It wasn’t that I was misquoted. I just couldn’t condemn anyone for feeling the way they did, for being angry. But advocating violence, that’s not me, that’s not where I’m coming from. Burning buildings, looting stores, that’s going about it totally in the wrong way. All they did was destroy life and property.

“Instead of taking three steps forward, the community took another step back.”

Byron Scott does as much community work as anyone with the Lakers, partly because it truly is his community. He knows what it is like to be on the wrong side of town. But this is the first time he has been on the town’s wrong side.

He lost Magic Johnson as his backcourt partner and lost Mike Dunleavy as his coach. In between, the Lakers lost important players to injuries and important games. What happened in Los Angeles during and after the riots was as devastating as any of it to Byron Scott, who scoops up his son in his arms, opens the front door to his home and says: “It scares me to think what could happen next.”