Being a sports fan is such a weird and wonderful thing. A person who truly loves a sport or a team, or is an all around sports junkie can be brought to unimaginable joy or utter despair by a win or loss. Athletes become idols. Coaches become never-met mentors. Hometown columnists become the people you look to for an in depth opinion, or the people you hate for their outlandish views. Even the broadcast teams become family.
I consider myself lucky to have had the pleasure of meeting Craig Sager a handful of times. But even before I met him, he was a staple in my life, and a part of the basketball family.
NBA fans will understand. When the TNT games came on, Craig Sager was a welcome sight before, during, and after the action. He entered your home, the bar, or the office, and he was a part of your life. His all-consuming joy, his warmth, his knowledge, and of course his wardrobe were a part of the NBA, an important part.
Craig Sager died on Thursday at the age of 65 after a battle with leukemia. I don't want to think he lost his battle with the disease. He fought it, and won. He is a winner because he never gave up and because he left us with so many wonderful memories. Here are a few of mine.
- Craig and Pop. It's hard to talk about Craig Sager's life and not talk about San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.
In 2014, when Sager was first diagnosed, TNT put together this beautiful piece on his career that also prominently features Popovich:
If you start watching at the 3:22 mark, you'll see that even they couldn't talk about Sager, without talking about Pop. The Spurs coach is not the easiest guy to interview, he doesn't always show the most warmth, but his banter with Sager was always filled with warmth and love.
On Thursday, Pop had this to say about the man whose personality was as bright as his suits:
- Craig's wardrobe. It was how most of the world knew him. The man on the sideline who had the craziest wardrobe. Bright suits, loud patterns, louder colors.
This wasn't a fashion statement that was out of left field a-la Cam Newton. Craig Sager's statement was so wild and bright and consistent that it brought a smile to everyone's face. He emitted so much joy that it was nearly impossible to get mad at the man for pairing peach and pink with snakeskin shoes. He was so much more than a crazy suit, and that's why everyone accepted it.
- When Craig and I crossed paths. As I said, I only met Craig Sager a handful of times, and only had one real conversation with him. But that conversation was one that will stick with me forever. I was in my first year of reporting, and I had bright red hair (my fashion choices have been known to rub people the wrong way sometimes).
It was after a pregame press conference, but before the game started, and Craig was in the media room at Oracle Arena in Oakland. We were in the salad bar line together.
He said, "You did good in there, kid," referring to my questions during the pregame interview with the coaches.
"Thank you, Mr. Sager, " I said, then introduced myself, trying very hard not to act like a fool in front of a man who was doing everything I'd hoped to do in life, and who shocked me with his stature and his height.
"Oh, haha," he replied. "You can call me Craig."
We exchanged a couple of pleasantries and some small talk. Then, as he took his salad and was readying to leave, he said, "It was nice to meet you, and hey, don't let them change you."
It was small, and I was one of thousands of reporters that he's met over the decades. But it meant so much to me.
He never changed. He was always kind, always tenacious, always bright. And he still is.