GREGG POPOVICH, the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, is known for his reticent ways with sideline reporters. His one-word answers and his "can we get through this please because I have a game to coach" attitude have become almost legendary.
But that changed yesterday. Between the third and fourth quarters of the Spurs-Mavericks playoff game, Popovich was interviewed by Craig Sager's son, Craig Sager Jr. The younger Sager, who is a sports reporter in Atlanta, was subbing for his dad, who revealed on Friday that he has leukemia and will be undergoing treatment.
Popovich greeted Sager with a soft pat on the back and asked him, "Hey, Mr. Sager, how are you doing?" The cordial greeting must have sent chills up and down every sideline reporter still awaiting such a salutation.
After Sager asked two routine questions, which Popovich answered civilly, the coach added, "Great job, great questions from Craig Jr."
"I talked to my dad and asked if he had a question," Sager said. "And he said, 'Son, you're on your own.' Is there anything you'd like to say to him?"
"I gotta tell you, you did a great job, but I'd rather have your dad standing here," Popovich said. Then looking into the camera, Popovich said, "Craig, we miss you, you've been an important part of all this for a long time, doing a great job. We want your fanny back on the court and I promise I'll be nice. Get back here. Good luck."
Soon after Sager Jr. (@CraigSagerJr) tweeted: "Popovich gave me a handwritten letter to give my Dad tomorrow. The whole Spurs organization is filled with class and great people. Thanks"
It's nice to know that NBA folks look at Sager Sr. as someone other than the guy who wears those loud, almost-offensive jackets.