NBA sportscaster Craig Sager had one wish and he got it. In April 2014, he was diagnosed with Leukemia. Shortly after he returned to work in March of 2015 his cancer was back again. Doctors told him that the prognosis was not good. Sager found new ways to battle the cancer. In July he underwent a bone marrow transplant with stem cells from his son. When the NBA season began in October Sager was back at work, interviewing coaches and NBA players.
This past week was the first time, since the cancer treatments began, that Sager interviewed San Antonio coach Greg Popovich. Between the first and second quarters of the Spurs game against Memphis, Sager interviewed Coach Popovich. The following are quotes from the thirty seven second interview and the honest insights into sports and life.
1. Coach Popovich “This is the first time I have enjoyed doing this ridiculous interview that we are required to do.” (at the end of first quarter). Professional head coaches earn these positions from their knowledge of the sport and their ability to instill that knowledge into their players. Head coaches are required to talk to the media on a regular basis. Coach was honest in this interview about how ridiculous it must be to be in the middle of a game and have to talk to a reporter when your focus should be on the team.
2. Coach Popovich: ‘[Coach was enjoying the interview]…It’s because you are here and you are back with us. Welcome back, …” After that the coach gave Sager a hug. In a rare display of positive emotion towards a reporter, Coach Popovich expressed the gratitude for seeing his colleague again.
During Sager’s recovery, his son took over as court side reporter. During this time period Coach Popovich said to Greg Sager Jr. “You did a great job, but I’d rather have your dad standing here,” Popovich then spoke directly into the camera to the senior Sager, “We miss you. You’ve been an important part of all this for a long time. You’ve been doing a great job. We want your fanny back on the court, and I promise I’ll be nice.”
Coaches and reporters often run into conflict. NHL coach John Tortorella lost his jobs in New York and Vancouver at least in part because of his poor public relations. Losing your cool with reporters once in a while might be understandable. However, repeated run ins with the media is bad public relations. Talking to reporters is part of the job of any head coach in any sport. The encounters with Popovich and Sager show a human and personal side to these professional relationships that fans don’t often see.
3. Sager said “I laid in the hospital for months hoping I could do this again…” Craig Sager has been a reporter for nearly thirty years. He might be best known for his colorful suit jackets that nearly rival Don Cherry’s. Once he was dealing with the leukemia, all Sager wanted was to return to his normal routine of life. It seems human nature to take for granted what we have. Only when we are about to lose it, do we realize how much we would love the normal every day routine we once took for granted.
Craig Sager’s goal while lying in the hospital was not some great promotion or new job. He put all his energy into getting back what to where he was before he got sick. We would all be happier in our lives if we fully appreciated the good things we have before we don’t have them.
4. After coach and reporter had gone through their emotional reconnection, Coach Popovich returned to the task at hand with an unusual candor when he said: “Now ask me some inane questions.” Does a reporter’s job require them to ask generic empty questions? The same blah questions are asked, and everyone knows the rote blah answers coaches will give. The most common one is “The other team is really good, and we have to play our best in order to win the game.”
After Coach Popovich invited Sager to ask his inane question he got one. Sager asked “[Were] you are shooting under 35%, are you happy with the shot selection?”
It was time to get back to the real world of basketball. Of course the coach was not happy with a 35% shooting rate, but this time he expressed it differently: “Happy? Happy? Craig, get back in the game. Love you,” coach bid farewell to his friend.
I was surprised how touched I was by this interview. I know of the coach and the reporter , nothing more. What touched me is that this was about the friendships we don’t acknowledge and appreciate until it is (almost) too late. Coach and reporter expressed that appreciation in this unique circumstance. Our challenge is to express appreciation to those around now. Christmas can give us the excuse / reason to do that.