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The Los Angeles Lakers' Byron Scott does witheringly funny impersonations of such show-business luminaries as Elvis Presley, Mr. T and Eddie Murphy. He also does unintentional impressions of some of these people. For example, on the court Scott resembles Mr. T when he drives to the basket for one of his muscular dunks, and he conjures up Murphy's Beverly Hills confidence when he unloads his improbably accurate long-range shot. As another of his favorites, Stevie Wonder, would sing it, Scott's graceful jumpers may very well describe the arc of the Lakers' playoff hopes, suspended precariously in midair "like a ribbon in the sky." If Scott can hit the outside jump shot against Boston, he and the Lakers may end up doing a very good impression of NBA champs.
For all his skills at mimicry, Scott has often had a hard time just being himself. "It was tough for him last year," says Laker general manager Jerry West, who pushed, over the heated objections of coach Pat Riley, for the October 1983 trade that sent Norm Nixon to the San Diego Clippers for the rights to Scott. "People expected him to come in and be Norm Nixon right away, and you just can't do that. It was a very emotional time for all of us." Nixon had been one of the Lakers' most popular players, and his banishment was greeted with such overwhelming disapproval that even ardent Laker fan Jack Nicholson wore a black armband to the Forum in protest. "If I had let all the stuff that went on last year affect me," says Scott, "I probably would have been the first guy to retire as a rookie."
The day after he signed with the Lakers, Scott was quoted in a Los Angeles newspaper as saying he was a better shooter than Magic Johnson and just as exciting. His new teammates barely spoke to him in practice, and for the first several days he got bounced around mercilessly. "When they didn't block my shot, they fouled me," Scott recalls. "It got to the point where I figured it had to get better because it couldn't get any worse." During one early practice, Scott was having a cup of water during a break; he asked Kareem Abdul-Jabbar if he wanted one. Abdul-Jabbar wouldn't even look at him.
Magic was the first to break what Scott calls "the sound barrier," and before long the other players began to warm to him. When he was booed while being introduced during his first game at San Diego, veteran Bob McAdoo turned to him on the bench and said, "They booed you, boy. You gotta dunk on somebody now." The first time Scott touched the ball that night, he went screaming down the right baseline and threw in a savage windmill dunk over Clippers forward Michael Brooks. Scott, who is 6'4", is one of the few players who is both small enough and strong enough to reduce much taller defenders to psychological rubble by crashing thunderdunks over them.
And yet Scott's value has been his ability to loosen defenses with his outside shooting. His confidence last season was at such a low ebb that after 25 games he was still shooting below 40% from the field; he ended up at 48.4%. The change has been remarkable: During 1984-85 he shot 43.3% from three-point range to lead the NBA and 53.9% overall, and averaged 16 points a game; over the last two months of the regular season he averaged 19.1 points per game, tops on the team. Against Denver in the conference finals he shot 65.4% and hit five of eight three-pointers.
Scott has improved his outside game by hustling teammates in shooting contests at practice. In one game, three-point field goals are worth just that, shots from out of bounds are worth four and shots made from behind the Forum's courtside seats are good for five points. Scott has on occasion hit as many as three five-pointers in a row. The Lakers also have a half-court shooting contest that Scott wins more often than anybody else. "The rest of us kind of hurl it up there," says Johnson. "Byron shoots jumpers."
He will probably move in a little closer before drawing on the Celtics. Matched against the thugnacious Danny Ainge, Scott is ready for anything. "My teammates told me if Ainge tried any nasty stuff and I didn't do something back to him," Scott says, "they'd slap me." For this series, Scott may want to work on his Rambo impression.