After the Passing of Craig Sager, an Emotional Coach Pop Remembers his Courage

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Legendary Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager passed away from leukemia on Thursday at the age of 65, after years of battling bravely with the disease in the public eye.

While it’s impossible to capture here what Sager meant as a family member, friend and journalist, some of his most iconic moments as a TV personality involved interviewing Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who spoke about his friend’s passing hours before taking the floor to face the Phoenix Suns.

“I guess on a day like this, basketball has to take a back seat as we all think about somebody who was very unique, very special. Whether you really knew Craig or not, you got the feeling that he was a special person in a lot of different ways. And right now, I just feel for his family.

To talk about him being a professional or good at what he did is, you know, a tremendous understatement. All of us who knew him understood that that fact was what he was all about, as far as work was concerned. But he was a way better person than he was a worker, even though he was amazing in that regard. He loved people. He enjoyed pregame, during games, postgame — he loved all the people around it. And everybody felt that.

The most amazing part of him is his courage. What he’s endured, and the fight that he’s put up, the courage that he’s displayed during this situation is beyond my comprehension. If any of us can display half the courage he has to stay on this planet, to live every [day] as if it’s his last, well, you know, we’d be well off. We all miss him very much.”

Popovich’s relationship with the media has famously been far from amicable. His earlier years being interviewed by Sager were no exception – the coach moaned, bristled at Sager’s questions, and, of course, took shots at his kaleidoscopic wardrobe choices.

Over the years, though, that rebuffing lessened and, after Sager was diagnosed in April 2014, their on-camera relationship took on new life, a visual piece of catharsis for both Pop and all the viewers following along with Sager’s struggle back home. During the 2014 playoffs, the Spurs coach was interviewed by the Craig Sager Jr. and took a moment to wish his father well. During the Spurs championship run, he reportedly checked in routinely with Sager’s family to see how his treatment was going. And when Sager returned to reporting while in remission in 2015, Popovich warmly welcomed him back.

In many ways, Sager was the perfect antithesis to Pop: the well-natured, flamboyantly dressed reporter trying to squeeze two terse answers out of a coach who’d rather be as far away from a mic as possible. While getting those answers often proved a challenge, Sager never flinched, ever the tinseled embodiment of poise and professionalism. In his interview yesterday, Pop alluded to Sager’s greater courage – the kind he exhibited on a daily basis in his fight with cancer and his unwavering will to keep doing what he loved. It’s that quality that indeed should be celebrated today, more than basketball.

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