The real story behind a half-court shot at last year’s ACC tournament that went viral
This story was originally published March 4, 2016.
Scott Park is a good man. He’s a family man. He’s a man of faith. He’s a hard worker. He’s a straight shooter and a huge college basketball fan. No, really, he’s a huge college basketball fan. Scott Park is one of us, and he is the best of us. If you’ve met him, he’s your friend and if you haven’t met him, you’d wish you had.
But one year ago, there’s a pretty good chance you made fun of Scott Park.
At best, you sat at your desk or looked at your phone or clicked on a link that popped up on your Facebook page and you chuckled at him. At worst, you might have clicked “share” or even gone to the comments bar and banged out a smart-ass remark.
Good job, good effort, bruh
Sucks to suck
He must not’ve needed the money…smh
That’s how we react these days. That’s the way of contemporary commentary. Daggers thrown from behind the shield of an avatar, too obsessed with one-upping the last line posted to worry about how those lines start piling up.
If you did any of the above — and millions did — you need to know that Scott Park isn’t mad at you.
But you should be mad at you.
On March 13, 2015, the 56-year old NC State devotee strode to midcourt at the Greensboro Coliseum for a dream shot. He and Ellen, his wife of more than 30 years, had entered a contest that promised a million dollars should he make a half-court heave at halftime of an ACC tournament semifinal game. Scott Park was the winner.
He already knew there was no way he was going to make the shot. “Oh yeah,” Ellen says. “For anyone, it would have to be a miracle. For us, we knew it would really have to be a miracle shot.”
He was so certain of it he even considered politely declining the invitation. “I thought, maybe I should tell them that I really shouldn’t do this,” Park recalled. “But that would be quitting. And Jimmy V said don’t give up. So I don’t think I’m gonna give up.”
Plus, no one who grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, who attended Dean Smith’s basketball camp as a kid, who spent his days as an NC State undergrad standing in the Reynolds Coliseum student section cheering on Hawkeye Whitney and who kept Wolfpack memorabilia displayed throughout his house — no one with that background — is turning down an all-expenses-paid trip to the ACC tournament.
He went to a local park near his home in Virginia Beach and practiced. Those rehearsals went about as well as he’d expected. So he and Ellen knew what would happen in Greensboro. They were prepared.
The other 22,024 people in attendance for Duke vs. Notre Dame were not.
They didn’t know that Scott shouldn’t be there. Not there meaning the game — he shouldn’t have been anywhere. He should have been dead. He survived his body attacking itself, shutting down organs by literally choking them to death. The condition is called catastrophic antiphospholipid syndrome, and his fight with CAPS left Scott with a broken, weak body. That body was certainly not up to the task of a half-court shot.
“Yeah, it wasn’t pretty, was it?” Park says as he describes the shot with a laugh and a shrug of the shoulders. He had given the shot a two-legged, two-handed heave, but it only managed to arc slowly and lowly, not landing on the rim of the basket but instead bouncing off the free throw line, just a smidge past halfway to the intended target. “What I heard was the ‘Awww.’ And I heard some boos in the background. That just kind of made me laugh. They don’t know my circumstance.”
That “they” included the writers on media row, most of whom had stayed in their seats instead of running off for a halftime snack for no reason other than to see whether the contest winner might win the cash. Sitting among them was Ryan Fagan, college basketball writer for the Sporting News. He’d recorded Park’s miss on his phone, posted it to Vine, and gone back to covering the game. Fagan noticed almost immediately that the six-second video had caught the attention of the social media crowd. In minutes, the loop count, tracking the number of plays the clip received, had motored into the thousands.
By 5 p.m. that evening, Scott Park’s missed shot had been viewed more than 4 million times.
After the game, Fagan stood in a coliseum tunnel, checking emails while he waited to conduct interviews. One of those emails was from Virginia Beach. Doug Montgomery was a friend of Scott Park’s and, after seeing the digital piling on during the game’s second half, he tracked down Fagan’s email address and informed him there was much more to Park’s story than anyone knew.
“Once I got that first email, I felt awful,” Fagan recalls. “I knew something had to happen. I had to do something to make it right.”
While Fagan worked to track down Scott Park, Scott and Ellen were blissfully unaware of his Internet infamousness. They were back in their free hotel room, Ellen jabbing her husband about the championship game they would be attending the next day, when her beloved Tar Heels would face off against Notre Dame. If not for the calls of their four children, some tickled and some horrified at the online reaction, they wouldn’t have known about that reaction at all.
“When Ryan met with us, he kept apologizing over and over,” Scott remembers. “But honestly, I was OK. And even if I hadn’t been, we were all square the second he reached out. You know that’s a good man who does that.”
Fagan wrote a follow-up story, going to Twitter to implore all who had clicked on his original Vine to do the same to this new link. In that piece, he described the details of exactly why Park knew he wasn’t going to make the million-dollar shot.
In 2007, Park had a procedure to replace the mitral valve in his heart. The surgery went fine. But within days, his organs began to shut down one by one, choked off from their vital blood supply by mysterious microscopic clotting. Doctors had no idea what was happening. Says Park: “I remember at one point asking [Ellen], ‘Am I going to die?'”
Scott Park, with wife Ellen by his side, continues to root on his beloved NC State Wolfpack from his hospital bed. Courtesy of Ellen Park
It took a dozen doctors to finally identify his condition as CAPS. It was one of only 400 cases ever to be diagnosed. He was sent to Johns Hopkins and put on a cabinet full of medicines and treatments, from steroids to immunity boosters to plasma replacement. They saved his life but destroyed his kidneys. The search for a donor is never easy, but Park found one in his Sunday school class back in Virginia Beach, a friend named Bucky Blanton. Bucky’s kidney worked, and Park became the first ever CAPS patient to undergo a successful kidney transplant. But even with the new organ, twice a month he and Ellen would still have to make the 10-hour round-trip from Virginia Beach to Baltimore to receive treatment. And every day Scott would have to take 39 pills.
That’s the man who missed that half-court shot, a man with a ravaged body, clotted organs, a borrowed kidney and experimental drugs coursing through his veins. Yet he still arrived in Greensboro back from the brink of death with a basketball in his hands and a smile on his face.
When Fagan wrote the rest of Park’s story, he who had been a punch line became an inspiration. He also became a cautionary tale in the paper-thin world of instant online overreaction. Unfortunately, the story didn’t stop there.
This past September, after making a trip to Nashville to meet his first grandchild, Scott Park began to struggle again. The clotting was now attacking his brain, and he was back at Johns Hopkins. A series of strokes left him largely unconscious for months. Once again, Ellen and their children were told to prepare for the worst.
But — and by now you should not be surprised by this — Scott Park fought back. He is now awake, alert and in rehab, working to regain the use of his right arm and his legs. During a visit one month ago, in a breathless but strengthening voice, he once again quoted his all-time favorite coach.
“You can’t give up. Just don’t. You just can’t. Just can’t give up.”
Next week, the ACC tournament will be back in action. This year, it’s coming to Scott, played at Washington’s Verizon Center, just one hour south of Johns Hopkins. It hasn’t been a great season for the Wolfpack, but he’ll be rooting for them just the same, just as he has throughout this latest ordeal, watching NC State hoops on his tiny television, images of Tuffy the Wolf scattered around the hospital room.
“It doesn’t seem like they’ve gotten far … but I’m still pulling for them.”
He smiles. He smiles all the time. He can’t walk. He has no idea when he’s going home again or when he might see his new grandbaby again. They tried to move him to a rehab facility two weeks ago but returned him to Johns Hopkins when his fever spiked and to keep an eye on some heart issues.
But he smiles. He tells people, “I’m doing great.” And he still says being made fun of online (the Vine was up to 9.3 million loops entering the weekend) has been a small price to pay for getting his full story out there. “Even if it inspired just one person to keep fighting when they were ready to quit, that’s pretty amazing.”
Yes, Scott Park is one of us, and he is the best of us. He’s also a reminder that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed to any of us. He’s a reminder of the importance of knowing the entire story of a person before carelessly trying to sum him or her up in a 6-second Vine or a 140-character tweet.
The best part? Scott Park is still here to remind us of all of that in person.
That’s a miracle shot.