The last Detroit Pistons game I went to was Game 3 of the first round in the NBA Playoffs last May. The Pistons were en route to getting swept by the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers. But I wasn’t there to see Lebron. I wasn’t there to see the first playoff game at The Palace in 7 years. In fact, I never even saw a second of game action. My mission was simple — I wanted to meet Craig Sager.
The game was on NBA TV, so Craig had undergone his emergency blood treatment in the wee hours of that Friday morning, but made it to the game; The fact that he was working at all was a miracle, as he had already undergone 2 bone marrow transplants, and hoping for a third.
All eyes were on Sages as he did his live report about 30 minutes before game time. To be honest, it felt sort of morbid. Here was this man, who more than likely would be gone before the next year’s playoffs, and everyone knew it. But we all stood and watched.
I came over to Craig as he finished and introduced myself. Then came the quandry; what else could you say to a dying man? I thanked him for all the joy he’d given basketball fans like myself. In a league where coaches and players alike can be very guarded, NOBODY was that way with Craig Sager. Even a hardened coach like San Antonio’s Greg Popovich — a guy who acts like “How’s it going?” is an intrusion of his privacy — loved Sages.
I tried to put into words exactly what he’s meant to so many of us, in and outside of the media. I had practiced it in my car! But what came out probably sounded like the rantings of some type of superfan. Where I was expecting to get maybe :30 with Craig, he treated me like an old friend. We talked about how he was going to play golf the next day, and the grueling schedule that he was keeping.
We visited for about 10 minutes, and he acted like he could have stayed another hour; but he was working, and I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. I told him he was in my prayers, and he thanked me. He had no idea that I should be thanking him. We snapped a couple of photos (which was good, since my eyes were closed in the first one!), and went on our way. This photo is one of my prized possessions.
There’s an old saying, never meet your heroes, because you’ll be disappointed. Like so many other times in his life, Craig Sager broke that rule; he was even kinder, more gracious. When he spoke at the ESPY Awards a couple of months later, I felt like we were old friends: all of this from a 10 minute meeting.
Rest in peace, my friend, you’ve earned it.