Have you ever cried over the death of someone that you barely even knew? Strike that. Have you ever cried for someone that you never even met?
Of course you have. There is at least one person in this world that each of us idolizes, even if it’s the person in the mirror staring back at you. It’s as Matthew McConaughey said during his memorable 86th Oscars Best Actor speech of the three things he needs each day for fulfillment: something to look up to, something to look forward to and someone to chase.
To the someone to chase aspect, it’s “My hero, that’s who I chase,” McConaughey said. Now to McConaughey, his hero was himself 10 years into the future. To me, it’s the legendary Craig Sager, who met his end way too soon this past week after a two-and-a-half-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia at the age of 65.
His strength, conviction and fierce work ethic spawned Sager Strong, a movement that took shape after his diagnosis.
Craig Sager is the reason I’m sitting at my newsroom desk right now at 10:30 p.m. typing this for whoever wants to read it. I wouldn’t be a journalist right now if it weren’t for the sagely Craig who changed the game of sideline reporting.
As a longtime Turner Sports broadcaster for more than three decades, Craig was a giant amongst the tallest of men on an NBA court. He covered every sport man has ever birthed, including college football, the World Series, the Winter and Summer Olympics, but he was known for the NBA.
His suits were violently loud and ugly as sin but man did Sages have style. It didn’t matter who he interviewed, he was always prepared and emotionally fettered. Not even “Mr. Know-it-all” Gregg Popovich could ruffle Craig’s hot pink or neon green collars.
Prior to last Thursday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns, Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs head coach, spoke the world of Sager saying, “Whether you really knew Craig or not, you got the feeling that he was a very special person in a lot of different ways.”
Legends paid homage to this man. Hall of Famers Magic Johnson and Larry Bird took to the media to share personalized statements. Magic called Craig a “legend,” and Bird said “he was as identifiable with the NBA as any player or coach.” I don’t know, that just seems amazing. Two of the greatest athletes known for their bitter 1980s rivalry place you among their company.
That’s inspiration if there never was a definition for it. That’s who I look up to; the unassuming man that beguiles all.
Some color commentators’ browbeating shenanigans, like ESPN “personality” Stephen A. Smith, may have originally enticed me to the journalistic craft, but it’s Craig’s calculated tendencies and surefooted wit that keeps me in the game.
We should all shoot toward having the same upbeat outlook that Craig had, and maybe, little by little, we’ll find the same determination.
At the 2016 ESPYS, Craig was presented with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, named after the late-great Jimmy Valvano who also died too early after a bout with cancer.
In his speech, as uplifting as always, Craig said his terminal diagnosis did not tear down his spirit but “summoned quite the opposite — the greatest appreciation for life itself. So I will never give up. And I will never give in. I will continue to keep fighting, sucking the marrow out of life, as life sucks the marrow out of me. I will live my life full of love and full of fun. It’s the only way I know how.”