Scott Brown is the Most _________* Man In America

*Fill in the blank. He’ll be whoever you want him to be.

YET THE CORNER IS THE PERFECT spot for Brown. No corner has ever held him for long.

The territory of his rocky upbringing remains the most heavily traveled by journalists: his parents divorcing when he was one; the subsequent men that Brown’s mother brought into their lives and that beat her, and him; the welfare checks. It wasn’t until Brown stole a Black Sabbath record when he was 12 and appeared before a stern judge that he began to see a way into the open. In the grand sweep of his rise what’s often missed is the self-discipline he developed, which moored him and allowed him to reach for a future ever more distant and different from that mangy childhood in Wakefield.

In high school, as his buddies slouched through elective courses, Brown took Latin, because those classes would look good on a résumé. He signed up for the drama club not only because he liked it, but also because he knew it demonstrated a well-roundedness that college administrators might find appealing. He used basketball the way many disadvantaged kids do, as a means to a better life. When he joined the varsity team in his sophomore year at Wakefield High, he was a flashy showman on the court, which his coach, Ellis “Sonny” Lane, didn’t like. “The type of system we had was more of a team-oriented, disciplined type of ball,” Lane says. Rather than rebel against Lane, Brown saw the advantages of embracing his style.  At the coach’s request, Brown spent hours working in the gym, alone, doing defensive slides, until he was exhausted.

The other players noticed Brown’s dedication, and soon he emerged as the team’s leader and, eventually, its cocaptain.

Off the court he led, too. Lifelong friend Mark Simeola says Brown was “one of the elders,” one of the few guys their clique listened to and respected. If you had a problem, you went to Brown.

At home, Brown had become the de facto man of the house. His mom, Judy, married four times, and none of those relationships lasted. Brown helped Judy and his younger half-sister in any way necessary. And every way was necessary. Brown took up karate so that he might better defend his mom from one abusive husband, says John Encarnacao, a longtime friend of Judy’s who later helped Brown enlist in the National Guard to pay for college.

Brown went to Tufts, which offered financial aid of its own and, just as important, was only a 20-minute drive from home. He majored in history, played basketball, and graduated in four years. He was an average student but made something remarkable of another opportunity.

Brown had done a little modeling work in college, and now, after graduation, his sister sent his photo to Cosmopolitan, for its 1982 Sexiest Man competition. What’s notable isn’t that Brown won and posed naked, or that his temperament synced with the vanity of the modeling world. It’s that Brown set aside the $1,000 prize for law school. The Cosmo spread launched his modeling career and he attacked the work with rigor, thinking of it as a means to an even better end than the money and parties and beautiful women he saw all around him.