On Thursday the sports world lost one of its greats. No, he wasn't a player who averaged ridiculous numbers, or a coach who won multiple titles. He was a sideline reporter for TNT. His name was Craig Sager.
Sager died on Thursday, November 15th, 2016 after a 2 year battle with cancer. He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in April of 2014 and underwent treatment that sidelined the game's most colorful reporter for awhile until his return to the NBA on TNT. Craig was 65 years old when he passed.
Besides the NBA, Sager was covering the World Series, Olympic Curling, and famously interviewed Hank Aaron after the baseball legend hit his 715th home run. Sager rushed onto the field and was the first to interview Aaron. He was in a plain white shirt during the interview, which after seeing him on the sideline of NBA courts for so many years, seems hard to believe.
Craig was best known for his role as a sideline reporter for the NBA on TNT. Throughout his 26 year career covering the NBA, Sager was never seen in the same outfit twice. It's why the Milwaukee Bucks and the rest of the NBA honored him by wearing his ESPY suit as a warm-up, and coaches wore ridiculous ties in honor of the greatest sideline reporter in NBA history. One reporter counted the amount of suits Sager had, and stopped at 137. Multiple reports say that the reporter didn't even check every closet.
The suits were just part of Sager. He was someone the players loved. In a media world of misleading headlines, obvious biases, and forced narratives, Sager was someone the players could trust and talk to. He wasn't just a reporter to them. He was a friend, a member of the NBA family that made itself so prevalent during Sager's struggle. Kevin Garnett and Craig had a chemistry rarely seen between athlete and reporter. Kevin would playfully roast the suits Sager wore.
"You take this here, and you burn it."
"Stop wearin' stuff like this when you're doin' real interviews."
These are just some of the moments between KG and Mr. Sager. Players like Steve Nash would frequently take the pocket square from Sager's suit and wipe their heads with it or blow their nose with it. After a Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Sager interviewed LeBron James. LeBron turned to Sager and asked, "How in the hell did you go 30+ years without gettin' a Finals game? That don't make no sense." I can tell you with absolute certainty that LeBron is not the first person to ask this question.
Sager also got along with the coaches, most notably Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Pop is notorious for playing with the media and thinking interviews are "ridiculous." When Craig Sager's son filled in for him in 2014, Popovich said to Craig Sager Jr., "You did a great job, but I'd rather have your dad standing here." He then turned to the camera and said " Craig we miss you...we want your fanny back on the court and I promise I'll be nice." Sager's return to the sidelines also had another Popovich moment. He said, "this is the first time I've enjoyed doing this ridiculous interview we're required to do and it's because you're here." Pop then gave Sager a hug, then told him to "ask me a couple of inane questions." Only Pop can show us two sides that are such opposites. One calls his team out when they lose, the other is a man who is just happy to see his buddy back with him at the game. Coaches last year wore colorful ties in honor of Sager, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr and others did so on Thursday night.
Sager was at the ESPYs this June. Vice President Joe Biden had the privilege of awarding Craig with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance. Sager gave an incredible, inspiring, and emotional speech at the ESPYs, and gave us a great quote. He said, "Time is something that cannot be bought, it cannot be wagered with God, and it is not in endless supply. Time is simply how you live your life." The quote fits him perfectly. During his time on the court, Sager always looked like he just loved his job. He made the most of what he was given, and will be remembered forever for doing so.
No other sideline reporter would get this kind of respect from a professional sports league. The reason is because no other sideline reporter was as important to the game as Craig Sager. NBA fans grew up with him on the sideline, players knew they had a big night if they got interviewed by him, and then they would become friends with him. Coaches were happy to answer his questions. ESPN gave him his first Finals game of his career. There will never be another Craig Sager. No one will match his enjoyment for the NBA he covered for so long. No one will get along with the players and coaches like he did. The NBA family lost an all-time great. His tool wasn't a consistent jump shot or a dry erase board. His tool was himself, and someone gave him a microphone and watched him turn into the most respected, loved, and now missed sideline reporter in the sports world.