“It’s not just that I have the greatest job in the world. I treat everything like that.”
I don’t have the first hand knowledge of basketball history as many fans that came before me do: I wasn’t alive when Magic and Bird were facing off against one another, I wasn’t alive when Jordan retired the first time, and I still wasn’t alive when he came back. I was only a year old when Jordan had his flu Game.
These events are only known to me through grainy video clips that I see on Twitter or Youtube. My grandfather will go on and on with stories about the Celtic’s of old, of Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Jo Jo White, Dave Cowens and Paul Silas. He’d say, “Oh, those were some great teams” and then look up and re-imagine the games playing play out in his head as they did some 50 years ago.
But these are only his second hand memories; I don’t have the same attachment to these moments as many of my predecessors do. I’ve been watching the NBA games regularly since Kanye released 808’s & Heartbreaks and, while some of the players have changed and analysts have moved on or been replaced – even the game itself is changing – but, one thing remains the same.
Craig Sager has always been there for me. Whether it was a great game or Sixers vs Grizzlies on a Tuesday, if Craig was there he made the game great.
Craig has been the TNT sideline reporter for a similar amount of time that I’ve been on this planet, and in that time the NBA has steadily increased in it’s popularity. Now we have a Salary cap as high as the association has ever seen – I’m not saying this is directly because of Craig, but – I mean – the numbers don’t lie.
Somehow from game to game year after year Craig has brought life and entertainment to a position where it is seriously lacking. Sideline reporters are one of the over sold traditions of sports broadcasting. The interviews of players and coaches rarely provide anything interesting and what they do tell us could just as easily be told to us from the people calling the game. None of that is true for Craig: he’s always able to get a little bit more, something personal, something that stuck with you, something unlike “we have to play hard to win the game”.
In recent years Craig has almost become a pop culture figure with his dorky dad-like mannerisms and his taste for fashion. Some call him a trendsetter, others tell him to burn his clothes.
Craig’s suits are part of who he is, his aura, his legend. His suits are so profound that there is a tumblr page dedicated to them. He is as much a reporter as he is a Basketball icon, and when Craig was diagnosed with leukemia, all of the NBA payed tribute. His celebrity and his fight continue to inspire millions across the league to show their support, one of them being Dwyane Wade:
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) May 25, 2016
Also inspiring a #SagerStrong Pin featuring him and long time adversary Gregg Popovich:
A photo posted by Patti Lapel (@pattilapel) on
“Intangibles” is a term typically used to explain why a player with poor statistics is getting paid a 8 digit salary, but Craig has qualities that cannot be measured – “intangibles” – that set him apart from the rest of broadcasting media. In a salmon colored blazer and pants that look somewhat like a sriracha bottle, Craig brings a charisma to the table that cannot be replicated. His contributions may occasionally go unseen and overlooked, but if you take a step back, you realize that these games wouldn’t be the same without Craig. That’s what made the agreement between ESPN and ABC to grant Craig the ability to work alongside Doris Burke as sideline reporter for Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals:
Craig has made his mark in broadcasting for 40 years after getting his first job as a weatherman. Since that day he has seen more than I can dream of seeing in my life. He’s been a crucial part of so many great moments as the warm gleeful human being that makes us feel at home within them.
In our culture, we can make the mistake of not cherishing our artists while they’re still here to hear them. So many of our kind words are said when the person to whom it would mean the most to aren’t around to hear them. The only NBA I have only ever known is an NBA with Craig. I don’t know what it’ll look like without him, and I don’t want to know. As players come and go, he stays to see this game through. In his time he has seen it go from an up and coming league stuck firmly behind football and baseball, to an international game played from everywhere from the South side of Chicago to downtown Manila.
Bryant Gumbel once said that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson saved the NBA: I say that Craig Sager saved the NBA in more ways than one.
By Jake Gongora