Craig Sager Rumors
When you first started interviewing Gregg Popovich during games, it seemed awkward from a viewer’s perspective. Over time, do you think you and Popovich have developed a better relationship? Craig Sager: “People always come up to me and say ‘God, that Popovich is a jerk.’ And I say ‘no he’s not.’ If I was him I wouldn’t want me coming into the middle of a huddle in a playoff game in the middle of the third and fourth quarter. You’re trying to make adjustments, you’re trying to win games, you’re trying to tell your assistant coaches what rotations to have and who’s gonna come in and do what. You’ve gotta stop and talk some reporter on the sideline? So I understand, but those are the (NBA) rules. As long as those are the rules, I’m going to keep approaching him at the end of the third quarter at home.”
You’re required to talk to the coach at times during the game, but is there a time that’s off limits? Craig Sager: “Last night (Game 1) … we have a 20-point rule. If a team is up or down by 20 points, you don’t interview the coach because it’s like the coach ahead is gloating and the coach behind is rubbing it in. But last night it was close to 40 and they (Turner Sports) said ‘you can do the interview with Pop.’ I go ‘What?’ They said ‘yeah the NBA approved it because you guys get along so good. Just don’t ask him specifics about the game.’ I go ‘what do you mean don’t ask him about the game?’ They told me (the NBA) doesn’t want that. I say ‘if I make it light-hearted he’s gonna be p***** as hell at me, because I don’t joke with him. I let him do what he wants. I don’t fire back.
In between signing autographs and posing for pictures, he listened to many of them tell him about their cancer-stricken loved ones. “So many people have been touched, hurt and affected by cancer, and I represent people fighting that evil disease,” he said Sunday, his voice cracking with emotion. “People want to see me out. They want to see me not give up and see me fight and not complain. I realize I have a responsibility now to keep fighting for all those people. I take that responsibility with 100 percent of my efforts and heart, and I’m going to fight for them all.”
Sager has long counted San Antonio as one of his favorite NBA cities. “I always got along great with everybody here,” he said. When healthy, Sager enjoyed jogging along the River Walk south of downtown. “I love that place,” he said of the River Walk, also home to some of his favorite restaurants and pubs.
Sager steps out of his producer’s rented Impala and ambles into The Palace for Game 3. He is wearing the lilac jacket, the purple pants, the striped shirt, the zigzag tie. “For Prince,” he says, as if the outfit wasn’t planned weeks ago. While he makes his way to the court, a receiving line forms around him: security guards, building workers, ushers. Local TV reporters who say they idolize him. Fans who say they pray for him. Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith daps him up. So does Pistons center Aron Baynes. Christine Cameron, the mother of Detroit center Andre, hugs him and holds on for a few extra seconds. He signs about 100 autographs. “Whenever Craig Sager is covering your game, you know it’s a big one,” says Cavs forward LeBron James. “But when I look over and see him covering our game right now. . . .” His voice tails off. “Talking about it makes me sentimental.”
But he can’t go to Hooters right now. He is waiting on a phone call, and as he admires the gold crystals in his tie, he is interrupted by a shrill ring. “I think that’s the doctor,” Sager says. He excuses himself to the living room of the Park Suite and picks up. “What are my platelets today? They’re four today? O.K. What’s normal? 140? O.K. No, it doesn’t surprise me. I understand. I’m fine. I feel good. Don’t worry. I’m used to this.” He hangs up. “My platelets are at four!” he announces, with a grim laugh. “If I got cut right now I could bleed to death.”
After graduating in 1973 with a degree in speech, Sager moved to Sarasota, Fla., where he worked as a sailing instructor, a bouncer at Big Daddy’s and a cub reporter at a radio station. A memorable audition tape—he rocked a blue-and-yellow seersucker suit—landed him on TV as a weatherman. From Tampa to Turner, execs tried to whitewash his wardrobe, going so far as to airbrush the bright hues from his jackets in promotional photos. Finally, they found a beat that could embrace his peacock sensibilities: the NBA. Alas, Kevin Garnett compared him to a Christmas ornament, Phil Jackson to the Good Humor Man, Charles Barkley to a pimp. He was heckled mercilessly. “There’s no way you bought that piece of s— in Philadelphia!” one fan shouted in the City of Brotherly Love. Sager raised the garment bag from Boyds as proof.