When Michael Stewart heard the news, he had to take a moment to compose himself.
Scotty Stirling, the man Stewart said “changed my life,” died Wednesday. He was 86.
It was Stirling who gave Stewart a shot at blocking shots.
Stewart, a 6-foot-11 defensive wonder out of Kennedy High School and Cal, generated little interest from the NBA in 1997. The Kings and Warriors were the only teams to work out Stewart, then known as “Yogi,” a nickname bestowed on him by older brother Louis because of Stewart’s affinity for Yogi Bear.
Never miss a local story.
Stirling – who worked for the Kings’ scouting department for 27 years, including 24 as scouting director – liked how Stewart protected the rim and ran the floor. Stirling said years later that he appreciated Stewart’s spirit and character and how coachable he was. “Believe me,” Stirling said, “you can never have enough of that in any league.”
Stirling, who figured Stewart was a safe free-agent signing, phoned Stewart the day after his workout with the Kings to congratulate him on his effort. He also offered Stewart a chance to work out daily with another intriguing prospect, a shooter named Peja Stojakovic.
“We trained every day that summer, and I ended up making the roster,” said Stewart, who lives in Florida. “Scotty changed my life, and I didn’t get to thank him enough. I owe him a lot. He worked in the shadows but was responsible for making a lot of our dreams come true.”
27 Years that Scotty Stirling worked for the Kings.
Stewart certainly had a role in making his dreams come true, too. After dreaming of becoming a ballboy with the Kings, he became one. He dreamed of becoming a dominant defensive player at Kennedy and Cal, and he still holds shot-blocking records at both schools.
As a rookie, Stewart led the Kings in blocked shots, and he had nine in one game. It was the best season of an otherwise ordinary NBA career. He’s now in the health-care business in Orlando, where he is raising his family.
“Scotty was a great man, a friend,” Stewart said.
While Stirling is best known for his years in the NBA, few remember that he went from sportswriter to the front office of the Raiders, Oakland Oaks, Warriors, Knicks and Kings.
Scotty (Stirling) changed my life, and I didn’t get to thank him enough. I owe him a lot. He worked in the shadows but was responsible for making a lot of our dreams come true.
Michael Stewart, who played at Kennedy High School and Cal before signing with the Kings
Stirling, who covered the Raiders for the Oakland Tribune in the early 1960s, recalled years later how players such as quarterback Tom Flores would wait near a Bay Area bank for paychecks to be transferred before cashing them, because money was that tight.
When the Raiders joined the upstart American Football League for its first season in 1960, the Tribune held a contest to name the team, in part promoted by Stirling. The winning entry was the Senors, which was quickly scuttled and switched to Raiders. Another finalist was Lakers.
Years later, Stirling joked that “Senors” was a reach: “That’s no good. We don’t have the accent mark for the ‘n’ in our headline type.”
The Raiders were so financially strapped that they signed just one of their 18 draft picks in 1961. It wasn’t until Al Davis arrived in 1963 that the Raiders began to turn things around. Davis trusted and befriended reporters then, and he knew the media were important in providing exposure for his fledgling franchise. Davis hired Stirling as the team’s general manager when Davis left to become the AFL commissioner in 1965. Stirling told the New York Times in 1985 that he learned to become “a little devious” from Davis.
Stirling is widely credited with helping to develop the concept of fantasy football as a member of the “Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League,” which used the 1962 AFL talent pool to pick players. Owners earned a quarter for a passing touchdown then. Years later, Stirling said not copyrighting the concept was his biggest regret.
But he never regretted joining the Kings. For a man who bounced from coast to coast, Stirling said working for the Kings was “the best job I’ve ever had.”