Mike Scott got his first emoji tattoos at a friend’s house in Atlanta in 2013, the summer after his rookie season in the NBA — a purple devil smirking on his right shoulder, an orange angry face on the left. Each cost just $30. Fast and cheap, as Scott, now a 29-year-old Washington Wizards forward, proudly brags. But back when he revealed the new ink to friends, their reaction mimicked the character on his left shoulder.
“Everybody was criticizing him about it,” longtime friend Marque Robinson says.
That only motivated Scott to get more emoji tattoos. Whenever a software update added new digital images, Scott returned to a tattoo parlor. A carrot, an ambulance, a middle finger, a hamburger, a playful ghost with a pink tongue, a stick of butter with wings and a pair of dancing ladies in leotards — Scott describes them as “two mistresses” — now make up the tapestry of body art. Scott covered nearly every inch of his arms and chest — he’s lost count of how many tattoos — for no reason other than a desire to be his own person.
“Very different,” Wizards forward Chris McCullough says of his teammate. “Definitely original.”
And definitely quirky. Scott is a conspiracy theorist who believes the existence of UFOs is being suppressed by the government. Imagine how interesting the morning commute to downtown Washington, past all those federal buildings with all those bureaucrats and politicians, can be for a guy who distrusts the system.
“I drive past the Capitol every day,” Scott says with a sigh. “I just always think the government is doing something.”
Antonn Scott believes his older brother’s movie tastes might have something to do with his paranoia. As kids, big brother Mike’s idea of babysitting Antonn was by popping in horror and mystery movies such as “Final Destination” or “Signs.” Antonn was 5.
“That has me cautious about everything,” Antonn says, laughing, “because of him.”
Though Mike Scott may be the most eccentric player in the Wizards’ locker room, he’s also one of the most generous. The team’s assistant athletic trainer Jeff Bangs hails from Philadelphia and is a die-hard Eagles fan. So when Bangs’ team made the Super Bowl, Scott brought him a ticket because he didn’t want Bangs to miss out on the experience.
“He literally had a bucket-list moment when he got to go to the Super Bowl, they won the Super Bowl and he got to see it his own self,” Wizards big man Jason Smith said of Bangs. “It’s truly special that Mike did that for him.”
Scott owns more than 700 pairs of sneakers, but gives away many to churches — or really anyone he can find who fits into a size 16. Though he and Robinson, a longtime friend who shares Scott’s Arlington condominium, obsessively play the video game “NBA 2K,” the real competition goes down at Dave & Buster’s. Naturally, the Wizards’ best shooter, who’s hitting a career-high 56 percent of his attempts from the floor this season, sets the high score on Super Shot. Those tickets that gush out of the machine? Scott gives them to nearby kids.
His coach is thankful his shooting skills extend beyond the arcade.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that he shoots the ball so well,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks says. “I didn’t know that he was deadly from 17-18 feet, all the way to the three-point line. So that’s been a great surprise.”
Last July, Scott woke up his younger brother with a text message: “We goin’ home.” Scott, who hails from Chesapeake, Va., and played college ball at Virginia, agreed to terms with the Wizards early in free agency for a one-year deal worth the veteran’s minimum of $1.7 million. On the surface, that contract indicated very little risk for the Wizards. However, amid boiling racial tensions between black men and white law enforcement, it appeared that Washington was signing a floor-spacing wing with baggage.
Last season, Scott’s fifth with the Atlanta Hawks, he was experiencing the worst year of his career. Because of injuries, Scott logged only 18 appearances in the team’s first 56 games. After a short stint with the Long Island Nets in the NBA Development League, where he first played alongside McCullough, Scott was shipped to the Phoenix Suns last February. But he never took that flight to Phoenix. One day after the trade, Scott had to appear inside a Georgia courtroom to face felony drug charges stemming from an incident a year and a half earlier.
In a recent interview, Scott spoke extensively for the first time about the July 2015 incident, a day that nearly derailed his career.
Scott rented a 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe for a road trip back to Chesapeake with Antonn. The Scott brothers had barely made it out of Atlanta on I-85 when they saw the flashing lights of a Banks County sheriff’s office patrol car.
“I got pulled over by a cop who was on his ‘Training Day’ [expletive],” says Scott, referencing the Denzel Washington film about a corrupt police officer.
Antonn, who was 20 at the time, was driving. The deputy, Brent Register, said he stopped the SUV because it was following other cars too closely, though Scott denies they were driving recklessly. During the traffic stop and search, Register uncovered a microwaveable dish with 35.2 grams of marijuana and a plastic baggie containing a white powder, MDMA. Mike Scott told Register the drugs belonged to him.
“I couldn’t have my little brother take that,” Scott says now. “My little brother ain’t had nothing to do with it. It was on me. I just took it because I didn’t want him getting in trouble for something I did . . . I couldn’t live with myself.”
Scott initially didn’t grasp the gravity of the situation — not after making his phone call to his father, or while spending a night in a holding cell. Only when his girlfriend posted bail and he heard news reports of his arrest did the weight hit the NBA player.
“Like, damn, ‘I [screwed] this up. Did I [screw] it up?’ ” Scott says he asked himself on the ride back to Atlanta. “And once I saw the consequences I was like, ‘This [stuff] is for real for real. It’s serious.’ I didn’t realize how serious it was until I got out of jail.”
Scott played a season and a half for the Hawks with the case hanging over his head.
“It was heavy on him,” Robinson says. “Of course he knew he made a mistake. That was probably the start of a very tough year.”
By 2016-17, injuries to his left knee, ankle and toe hampered him. After Atlanta finalized the Phoenix trade a year ago, the Suns waived Scott. For several weeks he searched for a new team, preferably one bound for the playoffs, but found no takers.
In May, a judge tossed out the drug charges after ruling that Register had racially profiled the Scott brothers. “We weren’t doing nothing wrong. Just saw two black dudes driving a nice SUV. That’s what tripped him off,” Scott says.
The dismissal came too late for Scott’s hopes of latching on with a playoff team. He believes the stigma from his arrest played a role in his unemployment.
“They probably thought I was a drug dealer, a drug user,” Scott says. “I got all that type stuff. I got all that hate mail. On social media, people were killing me. Just got to take it. When the spotlight’s on you, it’s your turn. So I’m pretty sure that’s what [NBA teams] were thinking: ‘He’s a troublemaker.’ I’m always going to have that, even though we got acquitted of everything. We don’t have no record or nothing but it’s still going to be with me. Forever.”
When he didn’t hear back from a team, the 6-foot-8 Scott packed on the pounds, ballooning to 277. But by the summer, free from a criminal court case, Scott committed to dieting and training. He gave up fast food and received weekly prep meals favoring lean protein such as salmon and ground turkey. After six-day-a-week workouts with fitness and basketball trainers, Scott slimmed to 235 pounds. By the start of free agency last July, he was ready to shed his outcast label.
“Only playing 18 games puts a drive in you when you know you’re capable of playing every game,” Robinson says.
Now midway through his first season in Washington, Scott has a room full of teammates who love his quirks — and his generosity.
“Ask him about some of the sayings on his tattoos,” Smith says. ” ‘I do not care at all.’ It’s an eyeball, then a doughnut, then a carrot.”
“He’s probably the first person ever to have emojis tatted on him,” McCullough says. “So that’s big. But overall, he’s a good guy. He’s a good guy I look up to.”
Scott also has a stat line flush with jumpers (he’s averaging 9.2 points and shooting another career high at 43.3 percent behind the arc), a refreshed reputation in the league and a life story full of pages waiting to be written.
“It’s like a new start,” he says.
Somewhere on his body, an emoji is smiling.